bizarro day of contradictions

25 Sep

Yesterday was crazy and fantastic and fun, and so full of things that are so contradictory that if I put them all together in one post, the sheer absurdity of it will make the internet cave in.  For the sake of saving the internet, I’m putting them in separate posts. I’m confident you can suffer through it.

My friend Christine and I went to see Justice Antonin Scalia speak in honor of Duquesne University Law School’s 100th Anniversary.  I’m not a Duq alum, and Brennan is (was) my favorite Justice, but the tickets were free and I thought it would be neat to see a Supreme speak.

Hi Nino!

Justice Scalia has an engaging (yet soothing) voice, and he’s pretty funny. I’ll give him that. That’s about all I’ll give him.  But of course I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this.

The theme of the speech was “What makes a University Catholic“.  Duq’s a private, Catholic school with crucifixes in every classroom and all kinds of Catholic rules.  Although I took one law class there and didn’t find it appreciably different than my classes at Pitt, the overarching Catholic mission makes Duq not the right kind of school for (Jewish) me.

The Justice focused on the virtues of education with a Catholic moral mission, and went on and on about his driving legal principle of textualism.  Near the end of the speech, lest I forgot how much he makes me insane, he went off into how he thinks Catholic institutions should not be forced to entertain diversity of ideas or cultures for the sake of diversity itself, and the evils of requiring a Catholic institution to include those Catholicism finds repugnant (his specific example: according to him, Catholicism doesn’t reject people who are homosexual, it only rejects those who do homosexual things, and he finds it abhorrent that a Catholic institution be required to accept such people).

Since there were protesters outside angry about Troy Davis’ execution, the Justice felt it necessary to point out that Catholicism doesn’t oppose the death penalty.  Thanks for sharing.

So my hair about lit on fire during his speech.  On a certain level, yes I get it, this is a Catholic school so do all your Catholic things.  On the more fundamental level, I couldn’t reconcile a single thing he said.  The driving theme of his speech is morality, yet he’s advocating exclusion and other ideas that I find fundamentally immoral.

There was also a panel discussion with three of his formal law clerks, which was mostly focused on Justice Scalia’s textualism philosophy of legal interpretation.  The clerks emphasized the Justice’s passion for getting it “right,” and how he really digs into the words of statutes itself, and applies them as they are written, and the outcome (like it or not) is predictable and grounded.

I can’t get behind that. At all, ever.  I see legal questions as having a “right” outcome, and you use the guideposts of the law to help you get there.  Interpretation of the law is the means to an end of justice.  Sometimes the answer of what is “right” isn’t clear, or can’t be agreed on…but that’s why you have so many players in the legal system, and argument, and dissent, and all kinds of other opportunities for many different people with many different voices to make their view on what is “right” known.  Sometimes even the law won’t let you get to the answer that is right, and the way the law stands, only the wrong answer can be supported. So that’s when you do have to make the wrong decision, but send it out as a message for the law to be changed.

I just can’t get behind so fervently (blindly?) applying the letter of the law, when it so frequently lead to answers that I find to be fundamentally wrong.  With a speech so concerned about morality, I can’t understand how Justice Scalia can so easily ignore issues of morality, when he’s called upon for legal interpretation (not saying he renders decisions immorally, but according to him, his decisionmaking process isn’t a question of what is moral, but what the law says.  I however can’t see how you can interpret what the law says without asking what is moral).


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