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Justice Scalia set to speak at MU

November 12, 2001
By: Julian Pecquet
State Capital Bureau

COLUMBIA - Nov. 12, 2001

Justice Antonin Scalia's lecture Wednesday evening will be the second opportunity for Columbians to meet a man who continues to inspire strong reactions 15 years after joining the Supreme Court. Scalia first came to MU in 1989 at the Law School's invitation.

"Justice Scalia has been very outspoken on some of our nation's most controversial topics such as reproductive freedom and separation of church and state. These issues always arouse passion," said Matt Lemieux, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

Scalia's visit comes at a time when eyes are once again turned to the Supreme Court and last year's presidential election, with the release of new data concerning the Florida vote. Scalia was in the Court's 5-4 majority in the decision to end ballot recounts last year.

"Supreme Court justices have to make decisions, that's what they're in the business of," said Richard Hardy, associate professor of political science at MU. "Their decisions are of immense importance because of their immediate impact upon principles, but also on all of us."

Scalia's Catholic beliefs have led him to support conservative views that have provoked the ire of civil libertarians and womens' rights groups. His nomination in 1986 was part of the Reagan administration's effort to reverse the Court's liberal evolution over the preceding decades.

During the nomination hearings, Reagan said Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Scalia would provide "a strong and eloquent voice for the proper role of the judiciary and the rights of the victims."

This role, according to many conservatives, is one of judicial restraint, a philosophy that recognizes the limits of judges in policy-making decisions.

In interpreting the Constitution, Scalia is a staunch defender of "originalism", basing his decisions on the document's original text.

In one of the most controversial issues facing the Supreme Court, Scalia voted to uphold a Missouri law limiting abortion rights.

"He is by far the most outspoken critic of Roe v. Wade on the Court and has even questioned the legitimacy of cases that created a constitutional right to privacy," LeMieux said.

Scalia has been noted for sticking to originalism even when confronted with consequences upsetting to conservatives. He has already found himself voting alongside the Supreme Court's liberals, recognizing flag burning as an expression of political speech and objecting to 48-hour detentions before probable cause hearings.

"Scalia stands out because he's very strong and decisive in his decision-making," Hardy said. "He's not afraid to lay it out there. On the Court itself, Scalia has earned the reputation of a rapid-fire questioner in oral arguments who can often disarm even the most erudite and experienced lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court."

Scalia's frankness may well be the reason for both the praise and the detraction he receives.

"Anytime you take decisions, you create controversy," Hardy said. "People love movie stars until they open their mouths and give opinions."