WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is downplaying reports of discord among the justices after last month’s decision to uphold President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul.
Scalia said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he and his colleagues disagree over cases all the time “without taking it personally.”
The justice refused to discuss recent reports from CBS News that Chief Justice John Roberts changed his vote in the health-care case and provoked hard feelings among his fellow conservatives who thought Roberts would side with them to strike down the law.
“I was out of the country for who struck whom. It’s terrible stuff. I’m not going to play any part in the recounting of it,” Scalia said during a 40-minute interview in a private sitting room at the court.
President Ronald Reagan named the 76-year-old Scalia to the high court in 1986, making him the longest-serving justice.
Scalia is giving a round of media interviews to promote the new book Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts that he co-authored with legal scholar Bryan Garner.
He went on to say that disagreement over the tough legal issues the court must decide is a part of the job. “I disagree with my colleagues now and then. It happens all the time. If you can’t do that without taking it personally and getting sore and picking up your ball and going home, you ought to find another job.”
Scalia said he’s confident that his eight colleagues share his view. “The press likes to paint the court as, the usual image is nine scorpions in a bottle. And that’s not true at all. I consider all of my colleagues friends and as far as I know, that’s how they feel about one another.”
The differences emerge in dissenting opinions, which can be harsh. Among the court’s better writers, Scalia has sometimes used his dissenting opinions to savage his colleagues on the other side of the issue. He once derided Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s views in an abortion case as “not to be taken seriously.”
Indeed, Scalia’s closest friend on the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, often opposes him in decisions, but they frequently socialize outside the court.
While he would not address Roberts’ reported switch, Scalia acknowledged that he himself had once been assigned to write a majority opinion for the court in a case years ago and then changed his mind. A majority “eventually went along with that revised view,” he said.
In the course of the interview, Scalia also defended aggressive questioning during argument sessions. Justice Clarence Thomas, who hasn’t asked a question in more than six years, has complained that justices sometimes badger lawyers who appear before them.
“It shouldn’t be hectoring,” Scalia said. “I hope I have not hectored. If I have, I regret it.”
But, he said, “I don’t want to listen for a half-hour to stuff I’ve already read and underlined and commented on in the margins. That’s utterly useless.”
Lawyers who can resolve justices’ nagging questions about a case “can win the day,” he said. Arguments rarely cause him to change his views about a case, but they can help him make up his mind when he goes into an argument “and you’re on knife’s edge,” Scalia said.
Scalia’s new book, his second with Garner attempts to collect in one place Scalia’s well-known views that judges should rely on the text of laws and how that language was understood by the people who wrote the laws. The authors set out 70 rules for determining what a law means and reject what they call “judicial speculation” about the spirit of a law.
They spent more than three years writing and revising its 567 pages, a process Scalia said caused him to spend vacations at his beach house at a desk instead of outside.
The justice cautioned not to look at the book as a farewell to the law or his legal career. He plans to be on the bench for a while still.