I suppose everyone has heard by now that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away yesterday. He was indisputably one of the most influential justices in Supreme Court history. I did not agree with his conservative views, but I admired his intellect and honesty.
Although I think his views on many subjects were wrong, he based those views on logic. He believed that the words in the Constitution should be interpreted to mean today exactly what they meant when the Constitution was written. Take the concept of “cruel and unusual punishment” for example. He believed that any punishment that was not considered cruel and unusual when those words were written should be permitted today. The most obvious example of this is the death penalty. It was not considered cruel and unusual when the Eighth Amendment was written, and therefore it should not be considered cruel and unusual today.
An example he gave in a TV interview involved stocks and pillories. To paraphrase what I remember of his remarks, he said that he would not advise using putting criminals in a pillory in a public square today. Nevertheless, such punishment was not considered cruel and unusual when the Eight Amendment was written, and therefore it would not be unconstitutional today, even though the concept of what is and what is not cruel has changed through the intervening years. If you believe his basic concept, that the words in the Constitution mean the same thing today that they meant when they were written, his conclusion is logical.
I disagree with his basic premise. I believe the Constitution to be a living document. Our concept of cruelty has changed greatly since the Nation was founded. For example, it was not considered cruel and unusual to own, beat, and rape slaves when the Eighth Amendment was written. It is almost universally agreed today, unless you’re a member of ISIS, that such behavior is completely unacceptable.
On a personal note, because a tendon injury keeps me from training for bicycle racing but does permit me to walk, I am hoping to spend the summer in Southern Europe again. I would like to walk one of the other pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. I have already done the Camino Francés, so I think I would like to try the Camino Portugués. If I do, I will blog the trip here with the aim of turning it into another book. Then this blog would finally become more interesting. 🙂