Scalia states his case for morals
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the keynote address as part of the centennial celebration of the Duquesne University Law School.
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In 25 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia has earned a reputation for firmly sticking to his beliefs. He encouraged the Duquesne University Law School, during remarks Saturday honoring its 100th anniversary, to do the same.
Justice Scalia, the longest-serving member of the nation's high court, hailed the importance of a moral background in rounding out an education in law and praised Duquesne for its commitment to a notion that, he said, is out of fashion.
"Our educational establishment these days, while so tolerant of and even insistent on diversity in all other aspects of life, seems bent on eliminating the diversity of moral judgment, particularly moral judgment based on religious views," he said.
"I hope this place will not yield, as some Catholic institutions have, to this politically correct insistence upon suppressing moral judgment, to this distorted view of what diversity in America means."
More than 1,200 people, many of them members of the Duquesne Law School faculty and student body, gathered in the A.J. Palumbo Center to hear Justice Scalia deliver a 22-minute keynote address that reflected the humor, intelligence and traditionalism for which he is known.
A devout Catholic who came from humble beginnings in New Jersey to graduate with honors from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, Justice Scalia said faith and morals are vital complements to an educational environment.
"This has nothing to do with making students better lawyers, but everything to do with making them better men and women," he said. "Moral formation is a respectable goal for any educational institution, even a law school."
Justice Scalia was introduced by Ken Gormley, the dean of the law school, and Duquesne President Charles J. Dougherty.
"Justice Scalia's experience mirrors the hopes and dreams of many who enroll in Duquesne's law school," Mr. Dougherty said. "Young men and women seeking to better themselves and to serve others through the practice of law."
Mr. Gormley, who organized the event, said the ceremony was two-fold. Today is the 100th anniversary of the law school's founding, and Monday is the 25th anniversary of Justice Scalia's joining the Supreme Court.
As part of the tribute to Justice Scalia, 75, the university presented a 20-minute film on his life, an operatic interlude from students in the university's school of music, and the Carol Los Mansmann Award for his service.
Also part of the event was a panel discussion in which Mr. Gormley posed questions to three of the justice's former law clerks. The exchange highlighted Justice Scalia's judicial philosophy -- which is based upon strict adherence to the Constitution -- as well as his penchant for hard work, energy, enthusiasm and wit.
Paul T. Cappuccio, who clerked for the justice in 1987 and now is general counsel for Time Warner, said Justice Scalia has an impact on court opinions, even when he is the lone dissenting voice.
"He has changed the way decisions are written," Mr. Cappuccio said, pointing out how lawyers who used to cite "legislative history" now know to avoid that argument. They will lose.
Justice Scalia recalled that when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the court, many observers expected him to be a swing vote and an influential force.
"That turned out not to be true," he said, drawing laughter from the audience.
The justice's appearance, however, was not without its controversy as nine people outside the Palumbo Center carried signs and handed out material opposed to the death penalty. The Rev. Gregory C. Swiderski, who organized the group, said he did not expect to influence Justice Scalia; he hoped to reach some of those who came to hear him.
But Justice Scalia said he did see them and told the audience that he was aware of their position. Still, he said, he found no contradiction between his religious views and his support of the death penalty.
"If I thought that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be immoral, I would resign," he said. "I could not be a part of a system that imposes it."
He said his only concern on the court is law.
"What does it mean to be a Catholic law school? There is no such thing as Catholic law," he said. "The law is no different for a Catholic than it is for a Jew any more than it is different for a woman or a man or a white man or a black.
"Thus it is that I am sometimes embarrassed when sincere opponents of abortion sometimes thank me for championing their cause. ... I do not champion their cause," he said. "The Constitution addresses the subject not at all, which means that it is left up to the states."
In closing, he reminded his audience that religious education is an elemental part of our nation's history, and the minds that are influenced by it are best capable of leading.
"Religious educational institutions from universities down to local schools are not strangers to the American scene. They are as American as apple pie," he said. "A Catholic law school should be a place where it is clear, though perhaps unspoken, that the here-and-now is less important, when all is said and done, than the hereafter."
First Published September 25, 2011 12:00 am