Monday, October 16, 2006

Conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia defends views at annual ACLU meeting

Conservative justice defends views at annual ACLU meeting
By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A feisty Justice Antonin Scalia defended his conservative view of a rigid unchanging Constitution at an unusual forum Sunday, the American Civil Liberties Union's annual meeting.

The high court's most outspoken justice, whose views generally put him at odds with the ACLU, scoffed at the notion that the Constitution should adapt to meet the needs of contemporary society.

"If you fall in love with an evolving Constitution," he said, "do not think that it will evolve in only one direction."

He warned ACLU President Nadine Strossen, with whom he shared the stage before an audience of 1,500, that justices could become more conservative in time and interpret the Constitution to retrench on individual liberties. Strossen said that was unlikely and termed the current court quite conservative.

During an hour-long session, Scalia also defended his opinions in favor of public displays of religion and against gay rights. On affirmative action in education, he said, "The Constitution very clearly forbids government to discriminate on the basis of race. You cannot use race (for) diversity. That's how I read the Constitution."

Scalia dissented in 2003 when the justices upheld a policy at the University of Michigan law school that favored minority applicants in an effort to boost campus diversity. A new case testing racial-diversity policies in elementary and secondary schools will be heard by the court this fall.

This was Scalia's first appearance at the ACLU's annual meeting. A 1986 Ronald Reagan appointee, Scalia is fond of saying that it is no fun to simply "preach to the choir" and that "part of my charm is telling people what they don't like to hear."

Overall, it was a tame crowd and the session was more conversation than debate.

Scalia, whose "originalist" theory asserts that the Constitution should be interpreted in its 18th-century context, believes in a limited right of privacy. He is against the right to abortion, which was first declared by the Supreme Court in 1973. Such a question, he says, should be up to the people and their elected legislators. "I apply the limitations on American democracy that the American people have adopted," he said. The rights of homosexual people, too, he said, should be left to the people rather than courts.

Scalia has ruled in a handful of cases the ACLU favored, particularly on free speech. In 1989, he voted with a narrow majority to allow flag burning as a form of free expression. "That's how I read the First Amendment," Scalia said, then he quipped, "I don't necessarily like the way I come out in cases."

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