The Supreme Court – sometimes it is fun and games

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.

And yet, they are also friends.  Good friends.  They joke around and care for each other.

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.

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4 Responses to The Supreme Court – sometimes it is fun and games

  1. cindylyon says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. That link you provided was great – I feel like if you’re an 81 year old Supreme Court Justice you can do practically anything you want! More importantly, I enjoyed the point that you tried to make in this post. Even if you have a difference of opinion, you can still remain civil and recognize the validity in a counter argument. Having passion and getting riled up about issues you care about should not be seen as a bad thing, but you can’t stick your fingers in your ears and pretend that a difference of opinion exists. This is something that I have been learning more and more lately, and it can really help in a discussion based class such as this one.

  2. dakotalarson says:

    I think your comment about how the Constitution does not mention women or minorities brings up a very good tangible point that yet I do not believe we talked about in class. When we were discussing why we disliked Scalia and that textualism is likely to be too narrow for the changing times and different cases, I believe our discussion could have benefitted from not only talking about how textualism or the letter of the law was limiting within the examples and definitions Scalia provided in his essay, such as the word “use” in the example he provides regarding trading a handgun as a barter for cocaine, but in the real world we live in today.

    In regards to the link you posted, I’ve always wondered how the Supreme Court’s dynamic is. I would assume Scalia brings a lot of liveliness and argumentativeness to the group, but I am glad to see that Ginsburg is another who is not afraid to speak her mind and be able to do so against such a strong opinioned individual like Scalia. However, it seems that both are probably good people who respect one another as people and their opinions, which I think is important as I can imagine the Justices can get rigid and stuck in their ways, and use “positional bargaining” as I have learned in my Negotiations class.

    I am looking forward to discussing Brennan and Balkin on Monday’s class. I think our discussion will flow much easier, similar to “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers” because we are comparing two different ideas and perspectives rather than one alone.

  3. abdelrafat says:

    Great Post. In regards to the two justices that you described as “polar opposites,” I would agree that they are very different individuals and both have different view points and beliefs. I would like to point out that American society has been accustom to having two opposing sides battle for their own, and their constituents, beliefs. For example the government shutdown in 2013; Speaker John Boehner and President Barrack Obama have argued and agreed on many issues, all while remaining good friends. The President understand that Speaker Boehner must adhere to his constituents wishes and vice versa. Historically, this has also been the case; small states vs. big states, slave states vs. non-slave states etc. Negotiations and compromise are the fabric of our society, to have a panel of justices that are all liberal or all conservative would not represent an accurate voice of the American people.

  4. mbstanton says:

    Thank you for this post. It is a relief that I am not the only person who gets friendly criticism and challenges to my views from family and friends. I appreciate you highlighting the fact that it is possible to be civil while standing strongly in different views. While I am also not particularly a fan of Scalia’s perspectives, I do feel compelled to at least respect everyone’s right to their own opinions, as I am sure you do as well. Even when I disagree with the decisions and perspectives of others, especially those in power, I do respect their opinion. In the words of Margret Thatcher, “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” Maybe I do not stand by the same views and opinions of those who are in power, but I still understand that they are individuals who fully believe that their views matter and implementing their views in society is important in making the world a better place. I am glad you took the time to point out this idea.

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