Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia showed a lighter side while joking at an event with students from the University of California Washington center.
At the event Monday, held to publicize his new book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” Scalia answered students’ questions on a range of issues and offered insight into the perspective from the other side of the bench.
Scalia said most times justices ask questions in order to make colleagues understand which way they are leaning a certain way on a case.
“Sometimes I ask questions just because I’m bored, just to stay awake,” he joked. “Very often the questioning is done to convey your point of view to your colleagues.”
Scalia also touched on topics as varied as his viewpoint on the Constitution and opposition of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The section requires that states and regions that have previously discriminated against minority voters such as African Americans gain federal approval when they want to change voting regulations in their states.
Scalia called the act one of “racial preferment,” which would continue to be reauthorized by Congress unless the high court took action.
Congress last reauthorized the act for another 25 years in 2006. The Supreme Court decision on the act’s constitutionality is expected in late June.
In February, when the act was last brought before the Supreme Court, Scalia had said Congressional support was based in part on what he called “racial entitlement.”
“I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about,” Scalia said. “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”
Scalia shot down a question on homosexuality when a student asked about the interpretation of the constitution’s 14th Amendment regarding same-sex relationships, something the student suggested was a “new technical phenomena.”
“There was homosexuality in the time of the 14th Amendment. Every state had laws against it. It was criminal in every state,” he said. “I don’t consider homosexuality a new technical phenomena … people didn’t come forward and demand a constitutional right to homosexual marriage before (in the time of the 14th Amendment).”
Scalia agreed when questioned by a student as to whether fellow Justice Clarence Thomas pushed him to the right when Thomas came on to the court in 1991 or if it was the other way around.
“What had happened was I had followed Clarence’s lead, he knew that,” he said. “Clarence is his own man, he’s not going to follow me just to follow me. You know he’s a very stubborn man too, which is why he won’t ask questions. The more the press is on him for not asking questions the less likely he is to ask questions.”
Thomas broke his silence for the first time in seven years earlier this year when he made a joke during an oral argument.