ANTONIN SCALIA IS THE SENIOR Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court — he was appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. Considered by many to be the intellectual center of the Supreme Court’s right wing, Justice Scalia is known for his articulate, outspoken, and unapologetic views on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Together with law professor and author Bryan A. Garner, he recently authored Reading Law, a treatise on his views on legal interpretation, published by Thompson/West (A review of Reading Law appears today in LARB).
Justice Scalia agreed to be interviewed for the Los Angeles Review of Books by its legal affairs editor Don Franzen, but with a few conditions. The interview had to be directly related to the book. Justice Scalia would not discuss cases that have been recently decided by the Court, cases that are pending before the Court, or topics that are either pending or are likely to come before the Court.
Mr. Franzen met with Justice Scalia in Los Angeles after the Justice had given a speech to a local bar organization. Wearing a dark suit, and with several deputy U.S. marshals in attendance, the 76-year-old jurist spoke with his accustomed clarity in an open and often affable manner about his views on the meaning of the constitution and the interpretation of laws.
FRANZEN: Your Honor, there are already so many treatises written on interpreting text and canons of interpretation, why did you and your co-writer Professor Garner feel that it was time to write this book on “reading law”?
SCALIA: Oh, I don’t think there are that many treatises. I believe that the last treatise that really went through the canons systematically is a hundred years old. The canons have simply been disregarded in recent years. Indeed, they’ve been run down by the academy. So, that’s why we thought it was necessary to teach textualists — those who want to be textualists — how to do textualism. You can’t do it without knowing what are the clues to the meaning of a text.
FRANZEN: I’ve had at least one appellate case that turned on a textual issue — whether or not a particular canon applied. It does seem the treatment of the canons in the cases is sort of haphazard.
SCALIA: They are simply not taught systematically in the law schools, and you’re quite right to the extent that students learn them they learn them episodically — in this case, that case and so forth. And they ought to be taught systematically, I think.
FRANZEN: Should that be a class in law school?
SCALIA: I think there should certainly be a course on statutory interpretation, and more and more law schools have begun to have such courses. But none of them, as far as I know, go systematically through the canons, because there’s no text that has them.
FRANZEN: You and Professor Garner of course are both advocates of “textualism,” the idea that meaning is to be found in the governing text, and also for “originalism,” that you are looking for the “meaning that the text has borne from its inception” — here, I’m quoting from the book. And of course you reject judicial speculation about either what the text means from content outside of the text or the “desirability of the consequences of the reading” — that’s also from your introduction. Text of cours...read more