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Justice Scalia Talks Satan, 'Seinfeld' And Gays

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

It's the first Monday in October, which means the Supreme Court is back in business after its long summer break.

That means it's also time for previews of coming court activity (cases this session will involve prayer, contraception and campaign finance, among many other issues), fresh speculation about when and if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might retire, and a typically garrulous interview with Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia tells Jennifer Senior of New York magazine that he believes in heaven and hell and that the devil is "a real person." He thinks his love of hunting may be "genetic" and claims to be a "damn good poker player," even though he admits he doesn't know what a "tell" is.

While he doesn't keep up with pop culture, Scalia thought Seinfeld was "hilarious."

"In fact, I got some CDs of Seinfeld," Scalia says. (Give him a break — my kid sometimes refers to DVDs as CDs.)

On more serious matters, Scalia says he's cheered that originalism — the belief that jurists should follow the original meaning or intent of the framers, rather than interpreting the Constitution according to evolving standards — has gone from being marginalized to being an accepted judicial philosophy, even at Harvard, which he calls "the big ship."

He credits his more liberal colleague Elena Kagan, a former Harvard Law School dean, for hiring originalist professors.

"What it means is that at least originalism is now regarded as a respectable approach to constitutional interpretation," Scalia says. "And it really wasn't 20 years ago. It was not even worth talking about in serious academic circles."

Scalia says justices should have a rubber stamp with which to mark laws "stupid but constitutional." He says he writes his own sharp-toned opinions to appeal to law students who "will read dissents that are breezy and have some thrust to them." He claims his tone has never cost him a majority on the court. (Huffington Post demurs.)

A devout Catholic, Scalia says that Pope Francis is "absolutely right" to say the church should spend more time helping the poor and less time arguing about divisive social issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

"But he hasn't backed off the view of the church on those issues," Scalia says. "I think there's no indication whatever that he's changing doctrinally."

Scalia, who has dissented from the court's recent run of gay rights decisions, says he has friends who he knows or "very much suspect[s] are homosexual," but notes that none of them have ever come out to him.

"I'm not a hater of homosexuals at all," he says. (Slate demurs.)

Scalia says he recognizes that some justices come to be seen as so out-of-step with the times that they're remembered as "old fogies," but he claims not to care how he's perceived. "I have never been custodian of my legacy," he says. "When I'm dead and gone, I'll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy."

One of the biggest changes during his 27 years on the court, he says, is the professionalization of the Supreme Court bar, with more advocates having experience arguing appellate cases, which he deems to be helpful both for the justices and their cases.

As is common, Scalia worries that Washington has become too polarized, saying this is "a nasty time" and noting that there used to be parties where Democrats and Republicans mingled in ways that "really were quite representative."

But he says he no longer reads The Washington Post or The New York Times because they have become "shrilly, shrilly liberal." He reads The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times and listens to talk radio.

"Sometimes NPR," he says, "but not usually."

Does that mean we should stop using his picture to illustrate our Facebook page?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alan Greenblatt has been covering politics and government in Washington and around the country for 20 years. He came to NPR as a digital reporter in 2010, writing about a wide range of topics, including elections, housing economics, natural disasters and same-sex marriage.
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