U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at it again yesterday. I have previously criticized Scalia’s apparent insatiable appetite for public notoriety, including violating judicial ethical rules by discussing issues in pending cases. He is the very model of the new celebrity justice that I have criticized in past columns (here and here and here). Now, at Princeton while pitching his latest book, “Reading Law,” Scalia succeeded in not only discussing an issue in two pending same-sex marriage cases but reaffirming homophobic prejudices. Scalia was questioned about his controversial comments equating homosexuality with bestiality by a gay student. Scalia admitted that such comparison are “not necessary, but I think it’s effective.” That appears to be the standard used by this justice in using profoundly insulting language: whether it is effective prose or argument. I will be appearing on Lawrence O’Donnell tonight on MSNBC with the student, freshman Duncan Hosie.
Duncan Hosie asked a disarming question of whether it is really necessary to compare homosexuality to murder and bestiality to make his point. No, Scalia, responded, “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s effective.” He then reaffirmed his support for “morals legislation” and the right of states to criminalize whatever they deem immoral — the very issue that underlies two same-sex marriage cases accepted last week.
Scalia basically told Hosie that comparing millions of Americans to people engaged in murder or bestiality is justified because it is clever: “It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd . . . If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” He then added the mocking afterthought that “I’m surprised you aren’t persuaded.” He certainly has, again, reduced this important human rights issue to an absurd level but I am unsure why that is effective as opposed to being obviously cathartic for Scalia.
I am not sure about Hosie, but I am not only unpersuaded but disgusted by the comments. For full disclosure, I represent the Brown family in the Sister Wives case in Utah challenging this type of morality legislation. As I have written in a prior New York Times column, Scalia is attempting to divide citizens with such arguments and he has been remarkably successful when it comes to gay and polygamy cases. In his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia said the case would mean the legalization of “bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity.” It is a Scalia parade of horribles. However, it also equates homosexuality with crimes like bestiality which occur without the consent of the victims.
Of course, Scalia does not answer how the right to criminalize immoral acts has been previously used to prosecute marriage of mixed race couples. He repeatedly refers to the slippery slope once the Court strikes down morality legislation, but never discusses his own slippery slope of criminalization for any acts deemed immoral by a majority of citizens.
Scalia’s view of the law seemed perfectly captured in responding to whether the Constitution is a living document. He responded “[i]t isn’t a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead, dead.”