This afternoon I had the privilege of attending the formal investiture ceremony of the 33rd District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota, Patrick J. Schiltz. In attendance at this event was none other than Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Scalia was kind enough to take questions from students prior to the event, which was quite an amazing experience. Even those who disagree with Justice Scalia must respect that he is one of the finest legal minds in American jurisprudence today, and that was apparent from his answers. What many don’t know about Justice Scalia is that he’s one of the most engaging and witty speakers I’ve ever heard. Despite having an impressive understanding of the issues, he came across as someone with a set of deeply-held convictions about the law, and he felt no need to gussy up his jurisprudence in any way. With Justice Scalia, what you see is what you get. He believes in the originalist theory of constitutional interpretation, and that’s how he’ll decide.
Scalia gets a rap for being an ideologue, and while that’s true, he’s not ideological in the conventional sense. He isn’t a conservative ideologue in the sense of modern American political conservatism. If anyone has any doubts of that, read his opinions on the flag-burning ban legislation and also his brilliant dissenting opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (an opinion that argued for extensive restrictions on Executive power to detain US citizens which was joined by Court “liberal” John Paul Stevens). He is ideological about his belief in originalism, but that jurisprudence does not make him either some organ of the Bush Administration or a conservative judicial activists. Justice Scalia even said that his belief in originalism even prevented him from doing “all those crazy conservative things” that he might otherwise like to do.
It’s a rare event to be able to get close to a sitting member of the highest court in the country, especially when one is a mere 1L. Not only did I get to see Justice Scalia, but also watch as the state of Minnesota gains an experienced and wise new member of the federal bench. Congratulations to newly-invested Judge Schiltz, and thanks to Justice Scalia for honoring us with his presence.