Friday, March 26, 2010

Supreme Court Justices Breyer and Scalia Debate

The National Law Journal has reported on a debate between Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer on statutory and constitutional interpretation and the role of judges. On Tuesday, March 23, in a discussion at the Supreme Court that was sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society, the two justices reprised a debate they have presented across the country. According to the article, the most lively part of the debate centered around statutory construction:

Scalia [insisted] that looking to the words of the law and nothing else is the best way to discern its meaning. That's because members of Congress actually vote for -- and can be held accountable for -- the actual text of the law, unlike committee reports and other documents drafted by "teenagers," to support their own views of the law, as Scalia put it with disdain. The legislators don't read those documents anyway, Scalia said. "Congress passes laws, not conference reports."
By that standard, Breyer replied, the words of the statute don't mean much either, because members of Congress don't read every word of the statute. A onetime Senate staffer, Breyer was far more willing to put his trust in a legislator and his or her staff to know a law's purpose as well as its words.

If you are interested in experiencing their differing views, here is a video of a similar debate held at the University of Arizona in October, 2009. The National Law Journal article also points to a blog that “offers a rough near-transcript of many of the exchanges between the justices. “ Josh Blackman’s Court-centered blog describes the latest version of the debate in “Recap: Original Intent and A Living Constitution, a Conversation Between Scalia and Breyer.” C-SPAN will also be broadcasting the discussion at some later date.

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