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University of Central Missouri
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Scalia Shares View on "Living Constitution"

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (March 5, 2008) – Is the U.S. Constitution a living document that should evolve and change as society matures? Antonin Scalia, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, begs to differ.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S.Supreme Court
Antonin Scalia, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Speaking to a crowd of about 1,300 people in UCM's Hendricks Hall Tuesday evening, March 4, he expressed his views in a presentation titled “Constitutional Interpretation.”  He spoke to the audience for more than an hour, including pausing after his formal remarks to field hand-written questions from the audience, presented through moderator James Staab, chair of the Department of Political Science.

Scalia’s visit was funded by UCM's Julius J. Oppenheimer Lecture Series, which has brought numerous national dignitaries to campus since it was established in 1983.

Calling himself an “orginalist,” Scalia challenged the theory that the Constitution is a dynamic, living organism, saying that it means the same thing today as it did when it was written. “The Constitution is not a living organism. It is a legal document that says some things and doesn’t say others,” he told the crowd.

He stressed that those who subscribe to the idea of a “Living Constitution” want matters to be decided by the Supreme Court, and not by the people. Rather than legal flexibility, he said, proponents are looking for rigidity, often in support of rights that may be favored by an unjust majority.

“It will produce what the society at times likes. Sometimes it will grant some rights. Other times it will take some away,” he told the gathering.

“Another argument in support of a ‘Living Constitution’ is there is no harm because it will always lead to new freedom….It leads to new freedoms, but it abolishes others,” he insisted.

Scalia is the second-most senior justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and is often regarded as the intellectual anchor of the court’s conservative wing. He was appointed to the court on Sept. 26, 1986 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

His visit to campus was at the invitation of UCM President Aaron Podolefsky, and made possible through a connection that was established by Staab in writing a book, The Political Thought of Justice Antonin Scalia: A Hamiltonian on the Supreme Court. Scalia planned to speak to students in one of Staabs classes this morning.

At the conclusion of Scalia’s presentation, Podolefsky presented the justice with a small bust of Dale Carnegie, a UCM alumnus known for his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.