In a rare interview Sunday morning, longtime conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke about big decisions the court has made on health care, gun control and abortion.
Justice Scalia, 76, criticized the Supreme Court, and specifically, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., for upholding President Obama’s health care law by what he said amounted to stretching the rules. “There was no way to regard this [health care act] as a tax,” he told Fox News Sunday while speaking about his new book. “It simply does not bear that meaning.”
But the Supreme Court’s first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired, last week defended her fellow conservative, Chief Justice Roberts, from accusations from other quarters that he was a “traitor.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Justice O’Connor told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Comments like that demonstrate, only too well, the lack of understanding that some of our citizens have about the role of the judicial branch.”
But Justice Scalia said he doesn’t let losses like this shake his confidence in the Supreme Court’s ability to make the right decisions going forward. “I’m no more discouraged than ever, you win some, you lose some,” he said.
On gun control, which has been in the spotlight since the July 20 mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, Justice Scalia hinted that something could be done to control semi-automatic weapons.
“Yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed,” he said. “Obviously, the [Second Amendment] does not apply to arms that cannot be carried. It does not apply to cannons.”
Justice Scalia said the decision in Roe v. Wade to allow abortions represented a change in the mindset of Supreme Court justices from following the original meaning or purpose of the Constitution to being dictated by the current cultural opinions.
“It’s left to democratic choice,” he said, meaning the Supreme Court opted to let the current mood of Congress decide the matter.
Justice Scalia insisted the Supreme Court doesn’t make decisions along party lines.
“I don’t think the court’s political at all,” he said. “That doesn’t show that they’re voting their politics. It shows they have been selected because of their [judicial philosophy].”
Justice Scalia said the justices’ lifetime tenure helps to keep politics out of their decisions.
“Now and then we have to tell the majority, the people, that they can’t do what they want to do, that what they want to do is unconstitutional and, therefore, go away,” he said. “It’s the American people that gave us that power, it’s the American people that said, ‘No, we’re not going to let future legislatures do what they want no matter what.’”
Justice Scalia said he hasn’t decided when to retire, but hinted it would be a good idea to wait until a future Republican president could appoint another conservative justice to fill his spot.
“I would not like to be replaced with someone who immediately sets about trying to undo everything I’ve done,” he said.
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