U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Addresses ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia candidly answered questions from the audience of American Bar Association members during the program, “A Conversation with Justice Scalia,” Feb. 4 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans.
Scalia shared his experiences and perspectives from his 25 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. He touched on topics such as Roe v. Wade, the future of the legal profession, the criminalization of federal law and the Constitution. ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III introduced the program.
Scalia began by explaining how the Court decides to hear cases each year. “It’s not hard once you have got it through your head that you’re not a court for errors, and it’s not the job of the Supreme Court of the United States to correct the states,” he told attendees. “Error correction—unless it’s a capital case—is not what we do.”
Scalia also expressed his concern about the significant increase in the number of federal laws and the deleterious impact it may have on federal courts. While noting that many criminal issues like drug abuse and domestic violence warrant attention, he explained that creating federal laws to respond to them is not the appropriate vehicle to attract attention to those issues.
“Stuff is pouring into federal courts and that’s not what they were set up for,” he continued. “You’re not going to have the same excellent courts when they’re flooded with nickel-and-dime criminal cases.”
Scalia faced some tough questions. An audience member challenged his view of Roe v. Wade and asked if it was impacted by his religious beliefs. Scalia responded with an unqualified no and explained that he believes abortion—much like many other issues not mentioned in the Constitution—should be decided by democracy, not the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I am sure it is not [based in religion]… I think the Constitution says nothing about it as it says nothing about a lot of other things,” he said. “When it says nothing about an issue, democracy governs… you either vote on it—or you vote on it through your representative.”
Scalia closed by sharing his thoughts on the legal profession and the number of lawyers in the American legal system.
“I believe we are devoting too many of our very best minds to the law—fewer and fewer are going to become teachers and engineers,” he said. “When [the profession] takes a huge proportion of minds, there’s something wrong with the legal system—maybe it’s gotten too complex, maybe it’s gotten too complicated.”
“A Conversation with Justice Scalia” was sponsored by the ABA Office of the President. Ronald A. Cass, dean emeritus of Boston University School of Law and president of Cass & Associates, PC served as moderator.