The University of Chicago Law School has provided some more details on Justice Antonin Scalia's historic visit to the school (about which we reported earlier). The justice spoke about his defense of originalism, as well as his role in helping U of C law students start one of the founding chapters of the Federalist Society:
With his visit on Feb. 13 and 14 to the University of Chicago Law School, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia returned to the place where, as a faculty member, he honed his historic contributions to judicial thought.
Scalia explained his guiding principles before a packed Law School auditorium, in a lecture titled "Methodology of Originalism” on Feb. 13. Scalia has long been known as a standard-bearer of originalism, the school of Constitutional interpretation that emphasizes historical context and the original meaning of the framers.
The homecoming also included informal talks with students and faculty members, who had the opportunity to engage Scalia in spirited conversation and debate. . . .
He defended his judicial approach of originalism by telling a joke about two hunters trying to outrun a grizzly bear. “I don’t have to outrun that grizzly bear; I just have to outrun you,” one says to the other.
“It’s the same thing with theories of Constitutional interpretation,” Scalia argued. “I don’t have to prove that originalism is perfect. It’s not perfect. The question is whether it’s better than anything else.”
“And that is not difficult,” he remarked dryly.
History and Jurisprudence
Throughout the lecture, Scalia passionately advocated historical research into the framers’ intent, and defended originalism as the only viable method of constitutional interpretation.
He spoke at length about District of Columbia v. Heller, a landmark 2008 decision that overturned Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban on the grounds that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep a gun for personal use.
The historical evidence presented to the Court was “overwhelming,” Scalia said: at the time of the framing, owning a gun was considered to be one of the fundamental rights of Englishmen.
Scalia also disputed the petitioners’ contention that the phrase “keep and bear arms” had an exclusively military connotation, arguing it had a broader meaning at the time the Constitution was written.
“I deny the premise that law has nothing to do with historical inquiry,” he said.
Without such historical evidence, the Constitution becomes “what you think it oughta be.”
Yet he argued that the conclusions to be drawn from the historical evidence were the responsibility of the Court, not professional historians. “Figuring out the meaning of legal texts is judges’ work,” he said.
Scalia also touted originalism as a defense against ideologically motivated decisions. “If ideological judging is the malady,” he said, “the avowed application of personal preferences will surely hasten the patient’s demise, and the use of history is far closer to being the cure than it is to being the disease.”
That philosophy made a broad impact during Scalia's time as a UChicago professor, when he helped a group of Law School students establish a founding chapter of the Federalist Society, an organization that favors judicial restraint in line with originalist interpretations. Scalia met with current members of the Law School's Federalist Society chapter during his visit.