Supreme Court Justices Appear in Montana

Aaron Flint posted on July 30, 2010 08:05 :: 1231 Views

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor were both in Montana this week.  Scalia in Bozeman, and O’Connor in Billings.  I spoke briefly with Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Thursday, while the AP, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and the Montana Watchdog’s Michael Noyes provided coverage of the Scalia event.  Here’s a full roll up of both appearances.

Let’s kick it off with Justice Scalia’s event:

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle provides this coverage of Justice Scalia’s remarks in Bozeman.

“A change occurred in the last half of the 20th century and I am sorry to say that my court was responsible for it,” he said. “It was my court that invented the notion of a living constitution.”

“As a matter of democratic theory, there is no more reason to take these issues away from the people than there is to take away issues of economic policy because there is no moral expert to answer them,” he said. “Only the people could bring about change by amending the Constitution.”

The answer to “value-laden questions should not be provided by seven unelected judges,” he added. “Nothing I learned at Harvard Law School qualifies me to determine whether there’s a fundamental right to abortion or assisted suicide.”

Meanwhile, the Montana Policy Institute’s Michael Noyes provides this coverage over at The Montana Watchdog site.

Instead of looking for people who are most qualified in terms of experience and education, Scalia said the politicization of the process has led to a search for politically acceptable nominees. He was particularly dismissive of the trend to look for “moderate” judges and questioned what a moderate interpretation of the Constitution would look like. 

“(Is that) half-way between what it says and what we would like it to say?”
An appointee of President Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986, Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98-0.

Scalia also hammered away at his thoughts on judicial activism.

“Until relatively recently, the meaning of laws…was thought to be static,” he said. “Only the people could bring about changes by amending the Constitution.” 

As an example, Scalia noted that women’s suffrage was brought about by the American people amending the Constitution. He contrasted that with the court’s finding of a woman’s right to abortion in their Roe vs. Wade decision.

KTVQ’s Amanda Venegas provides coverage wrapping up Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s visit to Billings. 

On Thursday, the federal courthouse in Billings was packed with hundreds of people wanting to see Justice O’Connor in a special sitting. Also joining Justice O’Connor was Ninth Circuit Judges Sidney R. Thomas of Billings and William A. Fletcher of San Francisco. The judges heard oral arguments in three cases that  dealt with the Freedom of Information Act request, reasonable search and seizure and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Justice O’Connor started her Montana visit with a fishing trip joining a longtime Montana federal judge, Jack Shanstrom.  The Billings Gazette share’s O’Connor’s favorite river.

 Asked at the luncheon to name her favorite Montana river for fishing, O’Connor said, “Oh, this is a setup! Let’s start with the Big Horn.”

When a woman asked about balancing a family with a career, O’Connor said, “Well, sure, it’s a big problem. I never had five minutes to myself. Could I get my nails done? No. Was it worth it? Yes. I was really lucky.”

O’Connor also spent the day with a group of Billings teachers, encouraging them to use a new website she is touting- – and highlighted the need to teach America’s young people about all three branches of government.  Here’s what she told me about her efforts in Thursday’s brief interview:

Click to Listen

And- the most comical moment of the Supreme appearances in Montana?  I’d have to say that award goes to Justice Scalia, at least according to this separate account from Michael Noyes:

The justice also demanded silence during his remarks. As he began to speak a baby could be heard faintly crying in the back of the room. Scalia said he often feels sorry for his son, a priest, who has to speak while babies are crying, but said “I don’t” and asked that the child be removed from the room.

A few minutes later as a camera whirred in the press area near the front of the room, Scalia asked what the sound was and said “Please.” The clicking stopped.

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