Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Supreme Court justices on Constitutional Interpretation

For this post, since we're smack-dab in the middle of our Judicial Branch chapter, I thought it would be great to hear from a couple of our current Supreme Court Justices--one liberal and one conservative. If you click above on the title link of this post, it will take you to a 13-minute video clip of an interview that Chris Wallace of Fox News conducted with Justice Stephen Breyer. The two links below will take you to Part I and Part II--each about 12 minutes long--of an interview that the CBS program "60 Minutes" conducted with Justice Antonin Scalia. (If you want, you can skip the first 4 minutes or so of Part II, as this deals more with Scalia's personal life and his childhood).

Since we have referenced this in class, you should be well aware by now that Justice Breyer is one of the reliable liberals on the court, advocating a philosophy of Judicial Activism, while Scalia is very much a conservative justice, the epitome of Originalism or Strict Constructionism. As you watch these interviews and have these two very contrasting interpretations of the Constitution and the role of judges explained for you, please consider the following questions:

  • In general, do you find yourself agreeing more with Breyer's (and Ginsburg's) assertion that we should be guided by the values outlined in our Constitution, or with Wallace's (and Scalia's) notion that we should go by the exact wording of our Constitution? Why? How does this connect with our discussion in class about the different types of judicial interpretation and ideology?

  • Do you agree with Breyer's explanation of the 2nd Amendment? Or do you more agree with the interpretations of the Supreme Court (against which Breyer dissented) that led to handgun bans being overturned in the past year or two? Why?

  • Do you agree with Scalia's explanation of the flag-burning issue? Do you believe that the 1st Amendment protects the right to burn an American flag and that, as Scalia says, "it was not up to [him]?" Or do you feel that the Court should have stepped in and prohibited flag-burning?

  • Please feel free to elaborate on any other thoughts, opinions, comments or reactions you had to these two interviews, these two Justices, or these two contrasting judicial philosophies.

Remember, you need to post TWO (2) comments to the blog. The first post should be your responses to these questions after you watch the videos, and the second post should be a response to something posted by one of your classmates. Both comments need to be posted by the end of the day on Monday, April 4th. Good luck--I look forward to reading your comments!