Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No clothes under the robes?

I have always suspected that Justice Antonin Scalia is not quite all that he's cracked up to be. He has been described as a high-powered and extremely shrewd legal mind, but I have never found his actual reasoning to be particularly impressive.

In many years of teaching, research, and political work, I have met a lot of very smart people. Some of them have multiple advanced degrees, some are incredibly creative in their fields (software design, molecular biology, pure and applied mathematics); many are recipients of MacArthur "genius" grants or other prestigious awards. Yet, I can't imagine even one of them asking a question as childishly foolish and naive as Scalia's "broccoli" query, or complaining that it would be unreasonable to be asked, as a professional, to digest 2700 pages of a law (passed by a 60% majority of the Senate) having great social, economic and political importance. Maybe it was a joke?

Justice Scalia is a large and loud person who, perhaps, generally travels in obsequious and very modestly talented company. He is a bully in his verbal and written pronouncements and probably in his physical presence as well. However, his legal opinions have been challenged on many fronts by diverse scores of experts: lawyers, judges and academics. While I don't pretend to be a legal scholar, as a mathematician I think I can detect deficiencies in logical reasoning, especially consistency, and I've certainly seen a disturbing trend in Scalia's published thinking: the fact that he has recently been using phrases that are well-known Republican "talking points" (being forced to eat broccoli is one of them). This hardly increases his stature as a deep and independent thinker.

It's time that someone points out that under the symbolic robes this emperor is wearing some pretty flimsy intellectual clothes.

BTW: Ronald Dworkin's New York Review blog has yet another critique of the constitutional challenges to the ACA; click HERE to read it.

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