Asserting the Norm: Chief Justice Antonin Scalia
The following Wespeak was collectively authored by a number of involved students, including the following: Virgil Taylor ’15, Ross Levin ’15, Nico Vitti ’12, Paul Blasenheim ’12, Zak Kirwood ’12, Cheryl Walker ’12, Meggie McGuire ’12, Mariama Eversley ’14, Isabelle Gauthier ’14, Josh Krugman ’14, Joseph Cribb ’13, Hannah Rubin ’13, Cesar Chavez ’15, Dan Fischer ’12, and Mica Taliaferro ’12. Though it may be written from a first-person perspective, it should be taken as a collective statement of these signers and the larger collective organizing dissent for Scalia’s arrival.
Justice Antonin Scalia represents some of the worst in institutional oppression America has to offer. While giving a talk at the Woodrow Wilson International School for Scholars, he defines his analytical framework of originalism: “Our manner of interpreting the Constitution is to begin with the text, and to give that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted by the people” (Center for Individual freedom: (http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/freedomline/current/guest_commentary/scalia-constitutional-speech.htm). The people in this context are of course white, property-owning males and not the nation as a whole. In embracing and romanticizing the founding of the United States, Justice Scalia asserts the white property-owning male as the authoritative norm. This overarching power marginalizes all others who do not fit this category as having a tainted or biased opinion.
Recall the swearing in of now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Many in politics and the mainstream media recoiled in doubt and fear of her female and Latina identity and her ability to make “objective” decisions. When her quote circulated, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” (N Y Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/15judge.html) what seemed to disrupt dominant conceptions of power the most were the juxtapositions of wise, female, and Latina. Power and authority did not have to rest in the white male, but a woman of color underwent widespread scrutiny and doubt as to the efficacy of her “biased” experience.
This event was a reminder that opinions can never be completely objective or true. In striving for original meaning in the constitution, Justice Scalia operates through an unacknowledged lens of whiteness and power that is accepted as original and unbiased. He also conjures an American and deeply historical vision of white male domination, and suffering on behalf of all others.
I hope, when we hear Antonin Scalia speak, we think about how power and normalcy, and subsequently oppression, are reproduced in American institutions and perhaps right here in our Memorial Chapel.