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Capturing Scalia’s philosophy in his own words

February 15, 2016 at 6:40 PM EDT
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society at the New York Athletic Club in New York October 13, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW) - RTR4A1AA

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now let’s look in depth at Justice Scalia’s legacy, not what’s next, but what was left behind.

What effect did he have on the court, how the Constitution is interpreted and how cases are decided?

Jeffrey Brown gets an assessment, and he starts with some of Justice Scalia’s own thoughts and comments in prior interviews.

JEFFREY BROWN: Over the years, Antonin Scalia found occasions to speak publicly of his judicial philosophy.

Late in 2012, with the release of his book “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Text,” he said this to Charlie Rose:

JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA, U.S. Supreme Court: The key question is simply this. Would the American people have ratified the document if it said, the application of this document and what it means shall be whatever the Supreme Court says it means from age to age? Nobody — nobody would have ratified that document.

CHARLIE ROSE, Host, “The Charlie Rose Show”: It’s a dead document to you?

ANTONIN SCALIA: I like to say an enduring document.

(LAUGHTER)

CHARLIE ROSE: But you don’t say it’s a living document.

ANTONIN SCALIA: It’s not living. It’s not living.

JEFFREY BROWN: In that conversation and others, the justice also explained his thinking on some pivotal decisions and dissents, including the bitterly debated ruling that decided the 2000 presidential election, Bush v. Gore.

CHARLIE ROSE: They think it was a political decision because the politics of the country made you say we got to do this the way we did it in order to get this over with. The court decided that, in the interest of the national — in the national interests, they got to get this over with.

(CROSSTALK)

ANTONIN SCALIA: The remedy for a case is always subject to the court’s discretion, and always depends upon realities on the ground, not the law, but what the remedy will be, whether you tell them do it immediately, give them another two weeks. That’s not an issue of law. It’s an issue of practicality.

JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier that year, Justice Scalia spoke to the “NewsHour”‘s Margaret Warner, discussing his dissent in the court’s ruling in favor of President Obama’s health care law, which cited the government’s power to tax and impose penalties.

ANTONIN SCALIA: The issue is not whether Congress has the power to tax. The issue is whether, in this particular law, Congress was exercising the power to tax.

And in all of our prior cases, we said that, even if you call it a tax, if it’s being imposed for the violation of a law, it’s a penalty. And this one wasn’t even called a tax. It was called a penalty.

JEFFREY BROWN: Justice Scalia, the child of Italian immigrants and first Italian-American on the court, also spoke of his heritage, as here in a 2015 PBS documentary.

ANTONIN SCALIA: I think for Italian-Americans, given what they most abhor, which is their identification with crime and the mafia, I wouldn’t be surprised if they would be more proud to have an Italian-American justice than to have an Italian-American president.

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