Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday
called his 2004 decision not to recuse himself from a case involving his friend
Vice President Dick Cheney the "proudest thing" he's done on the court.
Scalia's remarks came as he took questions from students during a lecture at
the University of Connecticut's law school.
The case in question involved Cheney's request to keep private the details
of closed-door White House strategy sessions that produced the administration's
energy policy. The administration fought a lawsuit brought by watchdog and environmental
groups that contended that industry executives, including former Enron chairman
Ken Lay, helped shape that policy. The Supreme Court upheld the administration
position on a 7-2 vote.
Scalia refused to recuse himself from the case, rejecting arguments by critics
who said his impartiality was brought into question because of a hunting vacation
that he took with Cheney while the court was considering the vice president's
"For Pete's sake, if you can't trust your Supreme Court justice more than
that, get a life," he said Wednesday.
He told students he would have recused himself if the case had involved Cheney
personally, but that he viewed the situation differently because the vice president
was named in his official capacity as head of the group.
"I think the proudest thing I have done on the bench is not allowed myself
to be chased off that case," Scalia said.
Scalia, 70, was appointed in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Reagan nominated him four years
later to the U.S. Supreme Court, filling the opening that occurred when William
Rehnquist became chief justice.
Scalia said he takes a very literal approach to the Constitution, and strongly
disputes the idea that the wording selected by the Constitution's framers should
be viewed in light of society's evolving morals and political leanings.
"You can't take the position that these words are expandable in one direction
and not expandable in the other," he said. "They obviously meant to
set some standards to control future generations."
He also said because of the Supreme Court's time constraints and heavy workload,
it often has to pass on the chance to review many potentially valid cases.
Instead, the court often has to put those aside, focusing largely on appeals
that pose true Constitutional challenges or could settle disputes between courts,
"I can't tell you how many cases I look at and say, 'Boy, they really
messed that up,' " he said, adding a motion that pantomimed tossing something
Several students who attended the speech said afterward that they were surprised
by Scalia's candor, though none were surprised that he hewed to his well-documented
"He's definitely a very smart guy, very bright," said third-year
UConn law student Kay Williams of Rockville, Ind. "I think from his speech
today, it seemed that while he has certain views, he's not looking to impose
them on everyone else."
That opinion was not shared by protesters who set up tables and passed out
pamphlets on the lawn near the building where Scalia spoke.
At a same-sex kissing booth near the lecture hall, students said they believe
some of Scalia's opinions amount to attacks on gays, women and other minorities.
"His visit opened a lot of conversation on this campus," said third-year
law student Colby Smith, who was wearing an "I Kiss Boys" T-shirt.
"We want to make sure people understand what the concerns are with him,
and why his views are particularly offensive."