This book is a collection of speeches Scalia gave throughout his time as an Appeals and Supreme Court Judge on many different occasions and many different topics. As you might imagine, a man of his stature and position was asked to speak quite a bit. The book came out last year – a little over a year after his death – and is edited by one of his sons (he had nine children), and another man who clerked for him at one time.
Like a lot of books that are collections, it had its good and bad parts. Not all the speeches were great to read and there were some where I read a few paragraphs and then flipped ahead. That said, however, the book overall was interesting and thought-provoking, and really showed just how much of a thinker and communicator he was.
The book is broken down into broad categories – American People and Ethnicity, Living and Learning, Faith, Law, Virtue and the Public Good, Heroes and Friends. Each section has several speeches. I probably enjoyed reading through the first four sections the most. Scalia was an observant Catholic and a historian, so his comments about the country and how faith/religion played and plays a role in its life were more interesting to me than some of his speeches about law.
In one of his speeches dealing with faith and religion, he made the point that when Jesus used the Roman coin as an illustration and said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” He showed that faith and the state have separate pursuits. Christ said it not only because it was a hard point to answer, but because it was true. The business of the state, he was saying, is not God’s business. Not that the state is in any way inherently evil; or that there are not good governments and bad governments insofar as pursuing the proper ends of government are concerned; or that some governments are not more conducive to their citizens’ service of God than others. But in the last analysis the most important objectives of human existence – goodness, virtue, godliness, salvation – are not achieved through the state; and those who seek them there are doomed to disappointment (pg 137). I really liked this point – I think it argues against an activist Christian agenda that sees every Supreme Court appointment as a call to arms and every liberal bill in Congress as the work of the devil. As believers we should have bigger goals.
The topic he hit on a LOT in the law section was his originalist interpretation of the Constitution. As an originalist, he believed the Constitution means the same thing today that it did when it was ratified in 1787. This is opposed to those who believe in a “living” Constitution and say that its meaning changes as the culture changes. His argument was that those who espouse a living Constitution are then free to make it say anything they want. In one of his speeches he said that the 19th Amendment – which granted women the right to vote and was ratified in 1920 – would never be written today because a court would simply find that denying women the right to vote was unconstitutional. They would discover a right, just as they did with abortion and same-sex marriage. The courts – at one time – judged that capital punishment was unconstitutional, even though the fifth amendment states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” – meaning a person CAN be deprived of life WITH due process. And as for same-sex marriage, when the Constitution was written and ratified, homosexual activity was illegal in all the states, so it’s difficult to find in the same Constitution that laws against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
By making the Constitution a “living” document, the courts have taken the power away from the legislative branch and given it to themselves. No longer do people who want change pursue it through new laws and amendments to the Constitution. They pursue it through the courts. It’s why all judicial appointments are now so politicized (and perhaps why there hasn’t been an amendment written since 1971).
One final thought about the book. The Forward is written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I guess she and Scalia were very good friends, having served together on the same Appeals Court and then the Supreme Court. It’s pretty cool that two people as diametrically opposed ideologically as those two were good friends. It shows what’s possible when grown-ups stop seeing political differences as reasons to go to war.
All in all, I mostly recommend the book. As I pointed out, not all of it is great and some parts are pretty dry, but if you want to think about some things in a way you perhaps haven’t, it’s worth reading.