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Antonin Scalia is so crazy, he believes the Washington Post is "shrilly liberal"

Jumping off of Michael Garvey's post, below, about the devil's popping up in the zeitgeist: I was frustrated at the response to Scalia's interview among progressives, because so many people took the trollbait ("The devil! What a nut!") and overlooked the portions of the interview that were, in my opinion, more revealing and alarming.

Dahlia Lithwick, writing at Slate, got the takeaway right, it seemed to me: "The Scalia interview reveals his remarkable isolation from anyone who doesn’t agree with him."

She pointed out how Justice Scalia turned the answer about the devil back on his interviewer, Jennifer Senior, attacking her for being out-of-touch and elitist: "You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil?... You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil!"

He brought the subject up (interrupting a question about his drafting process, as Senior tells it) to give himself the opportunity to say just that. As has been demonstrated before -- and as he more or less explains in this interview -- Scalia thinks trolling liberals is an important part of his job. It worked on Senior: "It wasn’t your belief that surprised me," she explains after being chastised by the allegedly offended justice, "so much as how boldly you expressed it." Yep, that's how trolling works. And it worked on a lot of other people who grabbed that quote and ran with it -- that loony Scalia!

Believing in the devil is not crazy. Using misunderstood religious beliefs and teachings to goad your liberal interlocutors into sneering at your simplemindedness, so that you can then posture as a persecuted man of the people, is kind of obnoxious, but it isn't crazy. This, though, is pretty crazy:

We used to get the Washington Post, but it just … went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

What tipped you over the edge?

It was the treatment of almost any conservative issue. It was slanted and often nasty. And, you know, why should I get upset every morning? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think they lost subscriptions partly because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.

The Washington Post is shrilly liberal. The paper that publishes -- this is a partial list, off the top of my head -- George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Marc Thiessen, Kathleen Parker, and Richard Cohen (who evidently thinks he is a liberal). The home of Broderism. The paper that is so reflexively centrist that its response to the GOP-manufactured government shutdown was to cry a pox on both houses and lament the lack of adult leadership on both sides. (See James Fallows's exasperated reaction here.) That Washington Post is shrilly, shrilly liberal?

I don't get the impression that Scalia was trolling there. I think he may really think he has a point. Conor Friedersdorf thought this was a significant exchange because it revealed Scalia to be much too ideologically thin-skinned. But he missed (or intentionally declined to pass judgment on) this larger point: the Washington Post is actually not that liberal. If you think the Washington Post is too "shrilly liberal" to be stomached, you have an alarmingly skewed perspective on the state of political discourse in the United States today. Good thing Supreme Court justices have complete job security!

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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The trolling analogy (though i guess it's not really an analogy) is apt. And as facetious as his remark on the Post is, what's frightening is that he instead looks to the Washington bloody Times and, even more, to that font of informative discourse, the radio for his news.

Also, this gem: "Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change." I imagine it would be a real hoot to get baked with the good Justice and discuss this and similar philosophical quandaries, said nobody ever.

I must say, though, that I am surprised that none of the gay friends that he is sure he has have come out to him. You'd think he'd be their top pick.

I do agree, though, about preferring Duck Dynasty over Homeland, but that's balanced out by my preference for women who swear.


I don't understand how someone can believe that words' meanings don't change. The word economy means something very different today than it did 200 years ago. So does philosophy. There are countless others. Language changes. That we can make that claim suggests that the changes aren't incomprehensible, but the groundwork for that claim has been laid (see Saussure).

What has always frustrated me about his position that the Constitution is a dead document is that it elides the fierce debates that the founders had engaged in for 20 years.

It seems axiomatic to me that people will interpret things differently. What must he think of the other justices, whose opinions differ from his own? Are they stupider? Unqualified? Are they more ideological? Blind? Not to understand that diversity of intepretation is a facet of the world is supremely arrogant, and quite scary in a person who holds power.

Should Scalia actually tip over into dementia, I wonder how anyone will know.

Thomas, Scalia obviously doesn't believe that words don't change. What he believes is something very different: if you're interpreting a 200-year-old document that uses the word "economy," whether it's a novel or a play or a will or a constitution, the only way to do it properly is to consider what that word meant at the time. That's what doesn't change. Right?

But if you use the modern meaning rather than the old meaning, you're not even interpreting the 200-year-old document at all. That's Scalia's point. 

I don't understand how someone can believe that words' meanings don't change.


When I use a word…it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”  Humpty Scalia in “Through the Looking Glass Court.”

I don't understand how someone can believe that words' meanings don't change.

Ask Obama, Bush, and the NSA et al. Here is the fourth amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized"


Um, well as we speak, the NSA is collecting e-mails, phone calls, and all other forms of electronic information without a warrant. Edward Snowden is being protected in Russia for simply sharing this information with the public. There was debate, even on here, with many people and legal scholars arguing that the plain meaning of the fourth amendment meant something other than what it said.


Why is it that I see Red Rats every time I hear or see anything Anton Scalia?  Most of all, for all his brillance, I can't stand his smug arrogance and condescension.

Now, he would have us believe is that he has personal knowledge of the devil.  Really?  Most of the people I encounter who believe that the devil lurks about in their world, I usually either check their meds or try to determine if they're having delirium from neuroleptic malignant syndrome.  

If Scalia thinks he knows evidence of the devil, I'm sure I could introduce him to some folks who are more credibly the devil than anything he's ever encountered.

Perhaps for me, it's like the character Salieri in the movie Amadeus who can't forgive God for giving all that genius and talent to enfant terrible Mozart?

Or perhaps, what we are increasingly hearing from Scalia is just a function of a very grumpy, aging prostate?

Saying that the meanings of words don't change is so stupid on the face of it that when I read it in the post I wondered whether Scalia had actually said that.  But in context I think he probably meant that the meaning at the time of the Constitutional Convention is fixed in history as that meaning -- that just as the fact that Washington was the first president doesn't change, neither do the meanings of the words of the Constitution in 1790 change -- their meanings then were their meanings then.

On the other hand,  I think that something he says at the end contradicts his thory of originalism (or whatever it's called).  Speaking of his own best opinion, he says, 

"But it’ll have impact in the future not because it’s so beautifully reasoned and so well written. It’ll have impact in the future because it’s authoritative. That’s all that matters, unfortunately."

If he REALLY is an originalist, and his meaning is the real/authoritative/valuable meaning,  then its being reasonable should have nothing to do with its value either now or in the future.

But I must admit he's a charming man.  Good thing he didn't decide to become a politician -- he might have beccome president :-)




I'd like to see future Supreme court nominees encouraged to follow the Scalia practice mentioned in the interview: "I like to have one of the four clerks whose predispositions are quite the opposite of mine—who are social liberals rather than social conservatives. That kind of clerk will always be looking for the chinks in my armor, for the mistakes I’ve made in my opinion."

Sure, I understand that he believes all of that. It just seems inflexible to me, and intellectual inflexibility from people in power is a scary thought.

Far more problematic, to my mind, is the implication of my other question: what does it mean that he thinks that anyone who dissents from his reading of the constitution must be "off" in some critical way?

George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Marc Thiessen, Kathleen Parker, andRichard Cohen (who evidently thinks he is a liberal)

I think most conservatives agree with Cohen's self-assessment.  The Post also publishes Eugene Robinson, Ruth Marcus and EJ Dionne.  And it's possible that the bias Scalia was referring to was not whatever rubbed him the wrong way on the editorial page, but what he detects in the news reporting.


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