Former law clerks to the late Justice Antonin Scalia gathered at a Federalist Society conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to lavish praise on their former boss, and a recently-published compilation to the justice’s public speeches.
The book, “Scalia Speaks: Reflects on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived,” has elicited praise from many quarters since its publication earlier this year. The justice’s son and three of his former clerks shared personal anecdotes and discussed their favorite speeches from the book during Saturday’s event.
The panel, moderated by Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, included Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit, Professor Rachel Barkow of New York University School of Law, Christopher Scalia, the justice’s son, and Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Scalia and Whelan co-edited the book.
“We thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into when we started reading through the speeches, but there were a handful of very big surprises,” Scalia said of assembling the volume.
Among the younger Scalia’s favorite speeches is one the justice delivered at The Juilliard School in 2005 at the invitation of the school’s president, Jospeh Polisi.
The justice’s co-panelists at the Juilliard event included Stephen Sondheim, the award-winning composer and lyricist who wrote Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the opera diva Renée Fleming, and historian David McCullough.
“My father liked to challenge people in his speeches,” Scalia said. “Even if he agreed with an organization or a group of people about 99.9 percent of an issue or life in general, he would find that minute point of disagreement and explore that and challenge them.”
During his Juilliard speech the justice explained that he did not believe the First Amendment protected music (as opposed to lyrics), since the Amendment itself refers only to words or symbolic actions which lend themselves to thought. It could not be applied, in his view, to protect that which has only aesthetic or erotic value. Therefore, he believed a law which suppressed performance of a particular opera because its music was lousy would pass judicial scrutiny. From this position, he formulated one of his most famous quotes: “Not everything that is stupid is unconstitutional.”
The justice’s public remarks covered a wide spectrum of subjects. Topics featured in the book include Catholic higher education, the idea of the Constitution, and an Italian perspective on the Irish.
“This really is not Justice Scalia narrowly, but Antonin Scalia, the man in full,” co-editor Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center said of the book. Whelan noted many of the book’s speeches were preserved only in the justice’s personal papers and were heard only by the audiences to which they were delivered.
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