In our previous class, we discussed different frameworks judges can use to approach court cases. Is the Letter of the law to be followed closely or are we allowed to consider context and meaning? We have also been introduced to Justice Scalia, a hard-line adherent to the letter of the law. He believes “that the unexpressed intent of legislators must not bind citizens (Scalia, 1997)”, the meaning and usage of laws should be expressed up front, in writing. He has used this reasoning to criticize President Obama, rule against the Affordable Care Act, and let lose this gem during his decision of the Equal Protection Act of 2011: “But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t”.
I am not a Scalia fan.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, however, is my girl. She is fairly liberal and isn’t afraid to disagree with other justices. She believes in taking context and history into consideration when interpreting the law. Her most convincing reasoning is simple: the Constitution doesn’t mention women or minorities. Yet they are now regarded as equal with white men. The Constitution has not been updated to reflect this, but society has. Therefore, we need flexibility when interpreting.
These two justices are polar opposites.
In the NPR article linked above, the political opposites’ friendship is exposed. Scalia teased Ginsberg that drinking wine with dinner before the state of the union class was “…the first intelligent thing you’ve done!” Scalia, as a staunch conservative, does not even attend the State of the Union address, and was ribbing his old friend for getting “tipsy” beforehand to make it bearable. There is also a comic opera in the works chronicling the two Justices in their fierce opposition in the courtroom and sincere friendship outside. Scalia summed up their relationship nicely when he quipped “What’s not to like – except her views on the law.”
As lawyers, shouldn’t “view on the law” be an important part of any relationship? Shouldn’t it color their view of the world and people? Yet Scalia and RBG seem to sincerely like each other, and have found a place where they can disagree whole-heartedly on legal issues and maintain an easy and respectful friendship, not just a working relationship.
I get so frustrated when discussing political positions with people who don’t agree. My family love to tease me and claim extreme views just to see me get upset. But this article about the Justices’ mutual respect and playful relationship is inspirational to me. Completely different viewpoints, yet they have worked together for years and have a friendship. Spirit or letter, we can look past that and remember that these people are dedicated to doing what they think is just. Whichever side you are on, the other side is not stupid, evil, misled. They are people who are striving to make our country a better place.