Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has come under increasing criticism for his dissent this week in a court ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, with critics saying his behavior crossed the line from impartial justice to political commentary.
Justice Scalia read aloud from his dissent on the bench. He went so far as to attack President Obama’s newly announced policy of letting some immigrants, brought as children to the United States, stay here legally. The policy was not part of the case before the court.
A Washington Post editorial was headlined, “Justice Scalia’s partisan discredit to the court.” It accused the justice of “lapses of judicial temperament” that “endanger not only his jurisprudential legacy but the legitimacy of the high court.”
Judge Richard A. Posner, who sits on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was openly critical of his fellow conservative in a Slate commentary. “Illegal immigration is a campaign issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if Justice Scalia’s opinion were quoted in campaign ads,” Judge Posner wrote.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote that Justice Scalia “cannot be a blatantly political actor and a justice at the same time,” and thus he “needs to resign.” The commentary was headlined, “Justice Scalia must resign.”
Commentators from across the political spectrum have weighed in with opinions that Justice Scalia went too far, according to a New York Times article.
Justice Scalia read from the bench about Obama’s announcement, “The president has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind.”
Columnist Dionne retorted: “What boggles the mind is that Scalia thought it proper to jump into this political argument. And when he went on to a broader denunciation of federal policies, he sounded just like an Arizona Senate candidate.”
Critics cited other episodes that caused them to question Justice Scalia’s temperament. They included his duck-hunting with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, not long after the court had agreed to hear a case involving White House documents and an energy task force that Cheney had led; his pointed remarks in a public speech critical of jury trials for Guantanamo detainees, delivered by the justice before the court was to hear a case on detainees’ rights; and his wisecracking dural oral arguments over the Affordable Care Act about a supposed home-state political deal that actually did not survive in the statute.
To learn more about the controversy over Justice Scalia’s dissent, see Gavel Grab.