On Tuesday, March 4th, at 7:30 p.m. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia presented a speech for an (almost) full house in Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri.

Justice Antonin Scalia at the University of Central Missouri

Justice Scalia was invited to the university to speak by Central’s President Aaron Podolefsky. In the lead up to Justice Scalia’s visit Podolefsky stated:

…”Our campus community looks forward to hearing from Justice Scalia, and his viewpoint on matters that significantly affect this nation,” Podolefsky said. The president stressed that one of the reasons Scalia is coming to UCM is because of the work of Jim Staab, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. Staab wrote the book, The Political Thought of Justice Antonin Scalia: A Hamiltonian on the Supreme Court….

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How did Justice Scalia make the connection with Staab’s book and Central?

University ‘Books’ Scalia

Lora Powell: Muleskinner

Issue date: 2/21/08 Section: News

After a few rejected interview requests [with Scalia], Jim Staab, political science department chair, wrote a book about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

When Justice Scalia discovered a package containing Staab’s recently published book, “The Political Thought of Justice Antonin Scalia: A Hamiltonian on the Supreme Court,” sitting on his desk, he felt compelled to give Staab a call…

…”Justice Scalia doesn’t normally come to institutions that don’t have a law school, but he said he would consider an exception in this case,” Staab said…

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In an interview with KMOS-TV prior to Justice Scalia’s visit James Staab spoke about his book and Scalia:

…Probably the thing that drew me to Justice Scalia initially is what I call the “tyranny of labels”…that people are often categorized as liberal or conservative without sufficient enough explanation of what that means…

…I discovered that there were very, uh, important differences between these justices that needed to be examined. And so this “tyranny of labels” is the idea that sometimes we just label somebody broadly as a conservative, broadly as a liberal without really examining what those particular views are…

…The thesis of the book is that Justice Scalia is influenced by Hamiltonian political principles….a conservative who supported a strong national government, a strong executive, and did not place a lot of importance upon state power…

…Justice Scalia, uh, both liberals and conservatives regard as an intellect. A very smart individual who, during his time on the court…has raised a number of fundamental questions about the law. Where does the court fit within our constitutional democracy? Who, what institutions are responsible for modifying the Constitution over time? Ah, should the court have some room to interpret the Constitution in such a way that it can evolve with time, or should this be left with the people…?

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A week before Scalia’s speech I received a forwarded e-mail written by a student group on campus:

…I’m with the Student Alliance for Peace at UCM. On March 4th and 7:30 pm Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be visiting our campus. Our group will be sponsering a peaceful protest in which we will make clear that we do not agree with several of Justice Scalia’s opinoins subsequent voting habits. These include restricting homosexual rights, the right for a woman to choose, the right to die, affirmative action, and his advocacy of torture. If any of these topics matter to you we encourage you to join us and have your voice heard! Our objective is to educate people of Justica Scalia’s (and the far right’s) attack on our constitutional freedoms. Please email us back and let us know if you or anyone in your organization would be interested in joining with us in a display of our freedom of speech!

At about 6:00 p.m. I arrived at Hendricks Hall. On the way into the building I noticed a few students setting up their protest signs by the flag pole on the Quad facing the entrance to the hall. After checking out the foyer and seeing no one at the press credential table I walked out to the Quad to talk to the students.

Student protest signs on the Quad

I spoke to two of the students, asking them how many were in their group (“about fifty”) and what they went through to set up their protest. As I was leaving to walk back to the hall entrance two other individuals who had walked up to observe the goings on made disparaging remarks about the student protesters. It turned out that the observers were attending Scalia’s speech.

I’m not so certain those two would get the irony of the students standing in front of the First Amendment plaque, or the title of Justice Scalia’s speech: “Constitutional Interpretation”.

Back at the foyer to the hall I received my media credentials and eventually made my way to the press seating. We were instructed that we could take photos at the front of the hall for the first three minutes of Scalia’s speech. I was also allowed to make an audio recording of his speech (for note taking purposes only).

More on the speech in part 2.