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Justice Scalia: Americans 'should learn to love gridlock'

October 05, 2011|By David G. Savage
(Alex Wong / Getty Images )

Many Americans think badly of the government because of “gridlock” in Washington. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is not one of them.

Americans “should learn to love gridlock,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “The framers (of the Constitution) would say, yes, ‘That’s exactly the way we set it up. We wanted power contradicting power (to prevent) an excess of legislation.' ''

And that was in 1787, he added. They “didn’t know what an excess of legislation was.”

Scalia, the longest-serving justice, contrasted the American system to those of governments in Europe, and he said this country’s Constitution is better because it provides for an independent president, an independent judiciary and two independent branches of Congress.

"I hear Americans nowadays ... talk about dysfunctional government because there’s disagreement,” he said. If they understood the Constitution, he continued, they can “learn to love the separation of powers, which means learning to love gridlock, which the framers believed would be the main protection of minorities.”

Scalia discounted the importance of the Bill of Rights and its protection for freedom of speech and the press. “Every banana republic has a Bill of Rights,” he said. Those are “just words on paper.” It depends on the “structure of government,” including independent courts, to enforce the rights of individuals.

The Senate committee invited Scalia and Justice Stephen G. Breyer to talk about the role of judges, and the two carried on a two-hour conversation about their views of the Constitution and the law.  

In recent years, they have conducted their own debate over whether the justices should rely on the original meaning of the Constitution in deciding cases. Breyer said judges needed to start with the “values” set in the Constitution, but need to update them to take account of modern times.

Scalia said he wanted no part of it. “I’m hoping the living Constitution will die,” he said.

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