Justice Scalia On The Record

60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl Interviews The Supreme Court Justice About His Public And Private Life

This segment was originally broadcast on April 27, 2008. It was updated on Sept. 12, 2008.

Not many Supreme Court justices become famous, but Antonin Scalia is one of the few. Known as "Nino" to his friends and colleagues, he is one of the most brilliant and combative justices ever to sit on the court and one of the most prominent legal thinkers of his generation.

He first agreed to talk to 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl last spring about a new book he's written on how lawyers should address the court. But over the course of several conversations, our story grew into a full-fledged profile - his first major television interview - including discussions about abortion and Bush v. Gore.

At 72, Justice Scalia is still a maverick, championing a philosophy known as "orginalism," which means interpreting the Constitution based on what it originally meant to the people who ratified it over 200 years ago.

Scalia has no patience with so-called activist judges, who create rights not in the Constitution - like a right to abortion - by interpreting the Constitution as a "living document" that adapts to changing values.



Asked what's wrong with the living Constitution, Scalia tells Stahl, "What's wrong with it is, it's wonderful imagery and it puts me on the defensive as defending presumably a dead Constitution."

"It is an enduring Constitution that I want to defend," he says.

"But what you're saying is, let's try to figure out the mindset of people back 200 years ago? Right?" Stahl asks.

"Well, it isn't the mindset. It's what did the words mean to the people who ratified the Bill of Rights or who ratified the Constitution," Scalia says.

"As opposed to what people today think it means," Stahl asks.

"As opposed to what people today would like," Scalia says.

"But you do admit that values change? We do adapt. We move," Stahl asks.

"That's fine. And so do laws change. Because values change, legislatures abolish the death penalty, permit same-sex marriage if they want, abolish laws against homosexual conduct. That's how the change in a society occurs. Society doesn't change through a Constitution," Scalia argues.

He's been on a mission as an evangelist for originalism, at home and around the world.

For example, he visited the Oxford Union in England.

"Sometimes people come up to me and inquire, 'Justice Scalia, when did you first become an originalist?' As though it's some weird affliction, you know, 'When did you start eating human flesh?'" Scalia told students, who replied with laughter.

They may be laughing, but in the U.S. Scalia is a polarizing figure who invites protestors and picketers. There haven't been many Supreme Court justices who become this much of a lightening rod.

"I'm surprised at how many people really, really hate you. These are some things we've been told: 'He's evil.' 'He's a Neanderthal.' 'He's going to drag us back to 1789.' They're threatened by what you represent and what you believe in," Stahl remarks.

"These are people that don't understand what my interpretive philosophy is. I'm not saying no progress. I'm saying we should progress democratically," Scalia says.

Back at the Oxford Union, Scalia told the students, "You think there ought to be a right to abortion? No problem. The Constitution says nothing about it. Create it the way most rights are created in a democratic society. Pass a law. And that law, unlike a Constitutional right to abortion created by a court can compromise. It can…I was going to say it can split the baby! I should not use… A Constitution is not meant to facilitate change. It is meant to impede change, to make it difficult to change."

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