The announcement that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be giving the Hugo L. Black Lecture in the spring has spurred discussion among students, faculty, and staff. The lecture will be held on March 8 and will be free of charge.
According to Dean of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs Gary Shaw, the annual lecture seeks to bring to campus the most notable legal and judicial minds to discuss the First Amendment and freedom of expression. He said that law professors and judges are often recruited to speak at the event, and that Supreme Court justices are particularly sought after.
“We were fortunate this year to secure Justice Scalia, whose prominence is certainly likely to stimulate interest, conversation, and intellectual exchange—just the things that students at Wesleyan and the wider community should thrive on,” Shaw wrote in an email to The Argus. “It should make an exciting campus occasion.”
Appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia’s opinions over the past 25 years have reflected a conservative ideology. Throughout his time on the bench, Scalia’s judicial philosophy has incorporated an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation, encouraging justices to decide cases based on the original intent of the Founders at the time of ratification.
President Michael Roth acknowledged that Scalia’s political ideology differs from that of the stereotypical Wesleyan student, and emphasized the benefits of students being challenged intellectually.
“I think it’s really important for Wesleyan to bring speakers to campus who don’t just preach to the choir, who don’t necessarily fit into what people think Wesleyan students think,” Roth said. “Bringing a Supreme Court justice to campus is a good thing because the justices are in positions to see the world and act on their perspectives in ways that are crucial to the country, whether we agree with them or not.”
Students also expressed a willingness to consider opposing viewpoints, especially given Scalia’s prominent position within the United States government.
“I don’t really agree with a lot of his policies but regardless of what he believes, he’s incredibly influential in our political system and it’ll be an honor to hear him speak,” said Alyssa Bonneau ’14.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Brian Glenn ’91 said that the exposure to and ability to engage in discourse about different opinions will be a good learning experience for students.
“I find that I learn the most when I listen to people with whom I disagree,” he said. “I think it’s very exciting that Justice Scalia is coming because he is a very articulate representative of a certain school of thought. I’m excited that students are going to have the opportunity to hear someone from that school of thought speak directly to them and answer questions from them. Whether you agree with him or not, the opportunity to hear what he has to say is simply wonderful.”
Benny Docter ’14 said he hopes Scalia’s visit will encourage discussion on campus, which he feels is often lacking.
“I feel like Wesleyan has a political culture that is not conducive to debate and real conversation—and part of that is just that people don’t have different opinions about a lot of things—but there’s also not a lot of injection of new ideas,” he said. “I think that Scalia coming will sort of serve that purpose.”
Roth also stressed the importance of political discourse and of being witness to differing opinions.
“I think it’s great for Wesleyan to have speakers who don’t flatter our sensibilities and values, but who challenge them,” Roth said. “And I’m sure Scalia will challenge them.”