Justice Antonin Scalia is easily the Supreme Court’s most strident conservative. He defends torture and finds little wrong with executing the innocent. He once argued that the Constitution does not protect women from gender discrimination (although he’s since backed off this statement somewhat). Scalia compared same-sex attraction to murder. He believes our immigration law should look to antebellum laws excluding “freed blacks” from southern states for guidance. And he spent the much of the Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act parroting conservative talking points against health reform.
Yet, according to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), Scalia’s really just a squishy liberal:
At the annual gathering of the conservative National Review Institute, held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, Cuccinelli appeared on a panel discussing the topic, “Does the Constitution Have a Future?” During the session, he criticized President Obama, suggesting the president had a malleable vision of the meaning of sin and of the Constitution.
“And really the way to fight back, given the governmental structure we have, the primary way is to get good judges who don’t accept what is wrong as right after a while,” Cuccinelli said, according to a video clip of the discussion. “Justice Scalia is in this category: ‘Well, we’ve been doing it wrong for a while, so now it’s part of the Constitution.’ I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that. And that needs to be reflected in the judges selected by the president, not this president, but the president generally, and approved by the Senate. They need to take that a lot more seriously than they do.”
To explain this a bit, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, conservative justices created new, artificial limits on the federal government’s power — such as saying that the Constitution did not permit Congress to regulate manufacturing, mining or agriculture. They then wielded these extra-constitutional limits to strike down basic workplace protections such as child labor laws or laws protecting the right to organize. The Supreme Court abandoned this misreading of the Constitution in the 1930s, and Justice Clarence Thomas is the only member of the current Court who embraces this misreading. Justice Scalia repeatedly refused to join opinions by Thomas pining for the days when manufacturing was considered immune to federal regulation and national child labor laws were considered unconstitutional.
Cuccinelli disagrees with Scalia on this point. He’s claimed that “[w]e want judges who will do nothing but apply the law as it was written and originally understood.” And, in one of his briefs challenging the Affordable Care Act, he tipped his hand to indicate a broader agenda to return to the days when child labor laws were tossed out because they exceeded Congress’ constitutional authority to “regulate commerce.” Cuccinelli’s brief embraces Thomas’ view that “the founding generation distinguished between commerce on the one hand, and manufacturing or agriculture on the other, as distinct things.”
Of course, Cuccinelli’s understanding of the Constitution’s history is dubious at best, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Cuccinelli thinks judges are bound by the founders’ understanding of the Constitution, and he also agrees with Justice Thomas that the founders would not have approved of child labor laws.
And so Justice Scalia is a villain, because he won’t join Thomas’ noble crusade against the most basic labor protections.