Crawford asked Scalia if he ever found himself in a situation where he was torn between his personal conscience and his professional duty as a justice. He said no. After Crawford expressed a hint of incredulity — you’ve never encountered such a situation, in your many years on the bench? — Scalia quipped, “Maybe I have a lax conscience.” The resulting laughter cleared the air nicely.On the subject of putting Supreme Court oral arguments on video, Scalia said he disapproved. He thought it would mainly lead to out-of-context clips. He thought he'd look great in those clips though: "I could ham it up with the best of them on television... I’d do very well." Lat calls that boasting, but I see modesty. Best of them implies that he doesn't think he is the best oral-argument entertainer. But he is!
Conversation turned to whether the Supreme Court’s opinions offer adequate guidance to the lower courts and litigants — a topic recently raised in this fascinating New York Times article by Adam Liptak, which Crawford explicitly referenced. Scalia appeared to agree with the general thrust of the piece.
“You can write a fuzzy decision that gets nine votes,” Scalia said, “or a very clear decision that gets five votes.”
On the subject of attending the President's State of the Union Address, he said: “It is a juvenile spectacle, and I resent being called upon to give it dignity…. It’s really not appropriate for the justices to be there.”
On the subject of hiring clerks from Harvard and Yale law schools:
"The best minds are going to the best law schools. They might not learn anything while they’re there [laughter], but they don’t get any dumber."I should reprise that Vonnegut quote from my 10:20 post. What if you had to argue that they do get dumber? I'll bet you could.
Note how Scalia did not use politically correct terminology. The PC approach calls for referring to the “highest ranked” law schools rather than the “best” law schools.I must chide Lat for not seeing the political incorrectness of saying "the best minds." Or has Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" made "best minds" seem like a standard phrase? "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...." That's not innocuous. "Best minds" should prick up our attention and make us feel that something is not right.
Surely, the applicants that Harvard and Yale smile upon are not really our "best minds." Perhaps they are the "best minds" that are applying to law school in any given year, but I don't think even that is true. You have to do too many things right, too diligently, too early in life to hit the law school application sweet spot and get into the most selective schools. The best minds will have resisted acquiring the conventional indicia of career promise.
Come to think of it, Lat is also wrong to say that "highest ranked" is the preferred terminology for law schools. In academia, "highest ranked" implies highest ranked by U.S. News, and it is the proper thing to loathe U.S. News. It lacks the nuance to perceive the subtle qualities that make our favorite law schools so damned special.
Seriously... I think Scalia, being a good writer and speaker, simply believes that short, simple words are... best.