The Supreme Court’s rulings, often in complex, difficult cases, have historically redefined racial and gender rights. So it’s more than a little disconcerting to hear Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dub decisions on the most debated issues of the century as “easy.” Scalia is known to be the ruling court’s most extreme right-wing “literalist” or “textualist,” meaning he casts his vote in accordance to a bare-bones definition of the Constitution. On Monday he aired his views on a number of hot-button topics, from homosexuality to abortion.
Here’s a look at some of the quotes that have secured his notoriety as the most outspoken justice sitting on the nation’s most powerful court.
“Reduction to the Absurd”The hard-headed justice confirmed this week that his views on homosexuality have not changed a bit—adding to gay rights proponents’ concerns about the Supreme Court’s plan to take on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 next year. During a question and answer session with students at Princeton University, a freshman confronted Scalia about his tendency to equate homosexuality bans and laws against murder and bestiality in his legal writings. “It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd,’” the Supreme Court Justice snapped at the student. “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things? I’m surprised you aren’t persuaded.”
“Easy” Justice Scalia made his views abundantly clear earlier this week at a Washington, D.C., book signing hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. “The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion,” he said. “Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”
“Vaffanculo” Scalia didn’t appreciate a reporter from the Boston Herald asking him in 2006 how he responds to critics who say his religion impairs his fairness in rulings. “To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’” Scalia reportedly said, flicking his right hand from under his chin. In Italian, this not-so subtle phrase means “f--k off” and the accompanying hand flick is equally rude. “You’re not going to print that are you?” he apparently asked in an interaction that occurred, it’s worth noting, inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross at Sunday mass.
“Unwanted Immigrants” When President Obama passed the DREAM Act, allowing young immigrants to obtain legal citizenship, Arizona created its own immigration law, contradicting some of the newly minted federal mandates. The state law was struck down by the Supreme Court—a decision with which Scalia did not agree, going so far as to suggest that the state should secede. “If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State,” he wrote. But he also used 19th-century restrictions on freed slaves as backup for his decision, saying that, back in the day, “State laws not only provided for the removal of unwanted immigrants but also imposed penalties on unlawfully present aliens and those who aided their immigration.”
“60 hours in a bakery” You might say sodomy is one of Scalia’s “easiest” decisions. Justice Scalia dissented on the case that outlawed anti-sodomy laws in Texas, and compared the act to a very strange, and mostly offensive, array of things. “[The Texas anti-sodomy statute] undoubtedly imposes constraints on liberty,” he wrote in his support of the state’s laws. “So do laws prohibiting prostitution, recreational use of heroin, and, for that matter, working more than 60 hours per week in a bakery.” But he didn’t stop there, saying, “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity,” along with any other law “based on moral choices,” are now “called into question” by the court’s decision.
“Hand-held rocket launchers” Justice Scalia sat down with Fox News’s Chris Wallace to discuss the recent massacre in Aurora, Colo. An ardent proponent of the right to bear arms, Scalia upheld the right of Americans to arm themselves with anything that can be “hand-carried,” which apparently could go way past what the Founding Fathers could have ever imagined. “It doesn’t apply to cannons—but I suppose there are hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes, that will have to be decided,” he said.
“Troposphere, whatever” Scalia is known for his unbridled outspokenness, which he occasionally shows off even in the nation’s highest courtroom. In 2006, the Supreme Court heard a case involving global warming. When discussing the pollutants in the environment, Scalia mistakenly referred to the troposphere as the stratosphere and was corrected by the plaintiff’s representation. Snapping back, he made clear his views on the matter: “Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”
“A cross, a star of David and a Muslim half moon”In oral arguments over erecting a cross in honor of all of America’s war dead, Justice Scalia offered a comeback to those who thought the cross only represented Christianity. “What would you have them erect?” Scalia asked. “A cross–some conglomerate of a cross, a star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon [sic] and star?” The lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union got some laughs from the audience with his response to the fumbling solution offered by the justice. “Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”
“Display their genitals” Justice Scalia might want to keep some ideas to himself lest anyone think it wise to take him up on it. Arguing that barring fully nude dancers in Indiana doesn’t violate freedom of expression, Scalia let his imagination run wild. “The purpose of Indiana’s nudity law would be violated, I think, if 60,000 fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosier Dome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd.”