"What I am questioning is the propriety, indeed the sanity, of having value-laden decisions such as these made for the entire society ... by judges," Scalia said on Tuesday during an appearance at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
In some cases — and in response to a question from the audience, he acknowledged Brown vs. Board of Education was one — there is a societal benefit when a court rules against prevailing popular opinion, but generally speaking it is fundamentally bad for democracy, he said.
While Scalia never mentioned the gay marriage issue specifically, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has come under fire nationally for overstepping its authority on the issue.
That court ruled last year that gay couples constitutionally could not be denied marriage licenses; the decision paved the way for the nation's first state-sanctioned same-sex marriages.
"I believe in liberal democracy, which is a democracy that worries about the tyranny of the majority, but it is the majority itself that must draw the lines," Scalia said.
As an example, he cited the women's suffrage movement, which he said resulted from the will of the people, not a court.
On an unrelated issue, Scalia was asked why he refused to step aside in a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney when the two had gone duck hunting together.
At first he refused to discuss the case, but then said there was no legal precedent for recusal and that any controversy was whipped up by the media.