Our Washington Examiner Op-Ed: Is Justice Scalia Abandoning Originalism?

March 9th, 2010

As I have blogged, I was quite disappointed by Justice Scalia’s line of questioning during oral arguments in McDonald v. Chicago. It seems that Originalism is less of a concern for Justice Scalia than obtaining the result he wishes. To that end, I co-authored an Op-Ed with Ilya Shapiro in today’s Washington Examiner, appropriately titled Is Justice Scalia Abandoning Originalism.

Here is a choice segment:

Yet this is the line Scalia took last week: Instead of accepting the plain meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause—which uncontrovertibly protects the right to keep and bear arms—the justice chose a route that avoids disturbing a 140-year-old precedent rejected by legal scholars of all ideological stripes.
In 2008, Scalia wrote, “It is no easy task to wean the public, the professoriate, and (especially) the judiciary away from [living constitutionalism,] a seductive and judge-empowering philosophy.” But at the arguments in McDonald, he argued that while the Privileges or Immunities Clause “is the darling of the professoriate,” he would prefer to follow substantive due process, in which he has now “acquiesced,” “as much as [he] think[s it is] wrong.”
Given Scalia’s epic enmity for substantive due process, why would he now turn his back on decades of his own hard labors and suddenly endorse the controversial doctrine? In his own words, because it is “easier.”
Granted, Scalia has been far from a down-the-line originalist. On more than one occasion, where originalism does not achieve the result he wants, he ignores the history and stands by precedent. (Most recently, Scalia voted to uphold the federal power to trump state regulation of medicinal marijuana, even if the drug never crosses state lines.) To explain these variances, Scalia has called himself a “faint-hearted originalist” or an “originalist, but not a nut.”
But if the opinion Scalia joins in McDonald matches his signals at argument, the justice will no longer be able to call himself an originalist of any kind. He will have to turn in his O-card and leave Clarence Thomas as the only originalist on the Court. (Not coincidentally, Thomas is the only justice on record as favoring a revival of the Privileges or Immunities Clause.)
The Court has nearly four months before it issues its McDonald opinion. We can only hope that the straying Saint of Originalism returns to the catechism he has taught so well.