Ten years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that laws outlawing sodomy between consenting adults were unconstitutional in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a blistering dissent. "What a massive disruption of the current social order," he practically wailed from the page. He said that the Court had "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," and contrasted the Court with the good people of America, who "do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive." And perhaps most notably, Scalia lamented that under the rationale the Court's majority was using, the government wouldn't be able to prohibit gay people from getting married. To each other!
He was right about that, anyway. But his dissent in today's case invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act is a somewhat different beast. Scalia spends the first 18 pages of his 26-page dissent far from the moral questions that had so animated him before; instead, he confines himself to arguing that the Court shouldn't have decided the case at all. Scalia is apparently deeply concerned that the Court is butting its nose in where the legislature should have the final say (more on that in a moment).
But when he finally gets to discussing the merits of the case, Scalia does not disappoint. While the rousing moral condemnations of homosexuality may be absent, Scalia deploys the cries of victimhood now so popular on the right with gusto. By forbidding us from discriminating against gays, you're discriminating against us. By calling our prejudice against gays what it is, you're injuring us.
Scalia is outraged at the majority's contention that the core purpose of DOMA was to discriminate against gay people, and this, he asserts, means that they're calling everyone who supports it a monster. "To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution," he writes.
And more: "It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race." Woah, there, buddy! Did anyone actually call you an enemy of the human race? Touchy, touchy.
But then Scalia updates his prediction from ten years ago, and he probably has a point: "It takes real cheek for today's majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority's moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress's hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will 'confine' the Court's holding is its sense of what it can get away with."
On this point, Scalia probably knows what he's talking about. After all, this is a guy who, in a decision delivered just yesterday, helped gut the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress and one that was reauthorized in 2006 by votes of 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate, yet spends two-thirds of this very dissent arguing that the Supreme Court is a bunch of black-robed tyrants when they invalidate a law passed by Congress. In other words, despite his carefully cultivated reputation as a principled "originalist," the only principle that guides Antonin Scalia is "what he can get away with." For him, it's the outcome that matters. The justification comes after. Is that true of the Court's liberals as well? Maybe. But it's a little rich to make that charge when your own hypocrisy is on such obvious display.
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