Supreme Court Justice Scalia speaks at UVM

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(Host) On Friday evening, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at the University of Vermont. The topic was one Scalia has spoken on many times before: constitutional interpretation.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Scalia has long been an advocate of what he calls an “originalist” approach to the constitution, favoring an interpretation that hews closely to the language of the constitution – a position that has earned him the label of the high court’s most conservative jurist.

Using occasional humor and sarcasm Scalia told the overflow audience at UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel that it’s wrong for courts to decide questions that aren’t clearly addressed in the constitution. And he criticized those who call the constitution a “living document.” He said those who hold that view see the constitution as “an empty bottle to be filled by the Supreme Court.”

As an associate justice, Scalia has confounded both liberals and conservatives with the positions he’s taken on the bench. In one ruling he rejected a constitutional basis for abortion rights. In another he lined up with the court’s more liberal members to support a ruling that protected flag burning under the First Amendment.

Scalia says questions not directly addressed by the constitution should be decided by elected officials, not judges. Scalia was appointed to the high court in 1986 by then President Ronald Reagan.

Scalia spoke to an audience that included students, professors and at least two Vermont supreme court justices. He would not allow his comments to be recorded for broadcast.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.

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