Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sat down for one of those “wide-ranging” interviews with New York Magazine. It’s filled with his characteristically refreshing frankness.
Below is a selection of Scalia’s more interesting exchanges with writer Jennifer Senior:
1. “A lot of stuff that’s stupid is not unconstitutional.”
SCALIA: “…if a state enacted a law permitting flogging, it is immensely stupid, but it is not unconstitutional. A lot of stuff that’s stupid is not unconstitutional. I gave a talk once where I said they ought to pass out to all federal judges a stamp, and the stamp says—Whack! [Pounds his fist.]—STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL.Whack! [Pounds again.] STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL! Whack! STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL … [Laughs.] And then somebody sent me one.”
2. Scalia doesn’t read The Washington Post anymore; It’s too “shrilly, shrilly liberal.”
SENIOR: What tipped you over the edge?
SCALIA: It was the treatment of almost any conservative issue. It was slanted and often nasty. And, you know, why should I get upset every morning? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think they lost subscriptions partly because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.
3. Scalia believes the devil has changed his strategy from “demonic possession” to “getting people not to believe in him or in God.”
SCALIA: What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
SENIOR: That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the devil’s work?
SCALIA: I didn’t say atheists are the devil’s work.
SENIOR: Well, you’re saying the devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
SCALIA: Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.
*Bonus: Scalia accuses Senor of travelling “in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the devil!”
4. Scalia plays poker, but he doesn’t know what a “tell” is.
SENIOR: Do you have a tell?
SENIOR: A tell.
SCALIA: What’s a tell?
SENIOR: What’s a tell? Are you joking?
SENIOR: A tic or behavior that betrays you’re bluffing.
SCALIA: Oh! That’s called a tell? No. I never … do you play poker?
5. Scalia, on why his opinions are so readable and why he never regrets “their tone.”
SENIOR: While your opinions are delectable to read, I’m wondering: Do you ever regret their tone? Specifically, that your tone might have cost you a majority?
SCALIA: No. It never cost me a majority. And you ought to be reluctant to think that any justice of the Supreme Court would make a case come out the other way just to spite Scalia. Nobody would do that. You’re dealing with significant national issues. You’re dealing with real litigants—no. My tone is sometimes sharp. But I think sharpness is sometimes needed to demonstrate how much of a departure I believe the thing is. Especially in my dissents. Who do you think I write my dissents for?
SENIOR: Law students.
SCALIA: Exactly. And they will read dissents that are breezy and have some thrust to them. That’s who I write for.