From the start of a Q&A with Justice Antonin Scalia tonight at Hastings College of the Law, he kept his rapt law school crowd in stitches.
Introduced as having long awaited his title of senior associate justice of the Supreme Court, Scalia quipped: "And that plus 75 cents gets you into the New York subway."
Prompted by Hastings constitutional law professor Calvin Massey, Scalia weighed in on a range of issues, including affirmative action, Bush v. Gore, televising Supreme Court arguments, and the role of his religious faith in his life and work. Hundreds of students, like 3L Trey Marshall (above right), packed the Louis B. Mayer auditorium for the talk.
One of the livelier themes was Scalia's defense of the textualist approach to the Constitution. The approach isn't perfect, he acknowledged. But he added it offers easy answers on issues as big as the death penalty and abortion. "I don't even have to read the briefs, for Pete's sake," he said. "If you are an evolutionist, you don't have any answers. Every day's a new day for the evolutionists ... Originalism isn't perfect, but it's so much more perfect than evolutionism."
"You do not need the Constitution to reflect the current society," he said later. If the current society wants to change something "... all you need is a legislature and a ballot box."
In a revealing moment, Massey asked Scalia about his saying once that certain times in human history are eras of genius. Eighteenth century America was an era of genius in government, he said, for example. What is our era's genius, Massey asked.
"Not every era is an era of genius," Scalia said. "The thing I worry most about is that we will never be a distinguished age if we don't believe in excellence."
Scalia seemed to enjoy himself throughout the talk. And he didn't appear to worry about his detractors. When Massey asked him why he seems to inspire great love or hate, he said: "I think my views are often misrepresented, and people have a misrepresentation of what I would do. As a result of which I often make a terrific impression because people expect me to have horns and a tail."
After Scalia left the stage flanked by uniformed officers and U.S. marshals, emcee and Hastings law professor Evan Lee told the audience he was very proud of them. (Perhaps he had in mind other less copacetic law school receptions of the justice.)