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Scalia’s visit spurs clash of ideas

February 11, 2002

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Liberal? Conservative? A pox on both houses, said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a ceremony dedicating the law school’s Wood Hall on February 10.

Speaking before a crowd of more than 1,000 in Pamplin Sports Center, Scalia described himself as an “originalist,” explaining that he interprets the U.S. Constitution according to the letter of the document and the meaning its authors intended for it.

Scalia’s visit was not universally embraced, particularly among those who take issue with the justice’s legal opinions as they relate to abortion, gay rights, the environment, and other issues.

Lewis & Clark welcomed him to campus “not because we endorse, or do not endorse, his views, but because he is a formidable thinker, a forceful speaker, and—most important—one of nine individuals who interpret our nation’s Constitution and determine the course of American society,” said President Michael Mooney. “Part of our mission as a liberal arts college is to educate civic leaders by facilitating the contest of ideas.”

In Scalia’s speech, which was often humorous, he argued against those who favor a “living Constitution” that “morphs to fill up with each generation’s most passionate beliefs.”

The primary purposes of the constitution are to define the balance and separation of powers in our tripartite government, and through the Bill of Rights, to protect the individual against the majority, he commented, noting that “conservatives are just as willing and eager to distort the Constitution as are liberals.”

“The trick to governance is striking the balance between freedom and order,” Scalia said.

The College also managed to strike that balance as more than 250 people, representing the Oregon Sierra Club, National Abortion and reproductive Rights Action League, Portland National Lawyers Guild, and about 20 other environmental and political advocacy groups, gathered on the street and then paraded on campus to protest Scalia’s decisions.

Inside Pamplin, after receiving a standing ovation, Scalia said, “Thanks for the warm applause. I’ll go outside now to regain some humility.”

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