The biggest question raised by Jennifer Senior's upsettingly entertaining interview with Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in this week's New York magazine is the metaquestion: Why is Scalia running his mouth? What leads a sitting justice to keep building a public dossier of his crotchets and prejudices, rather than just delivering them from the bench, robed in the neutral authority of the law?
It's tempting to see something senescent in the aging man's bad temper. But Scalia assured Senior that his mental powers are still at their height: "Oh, I'll know when I'm not hitting on all eight cylinders." And the text is everything, after all.
So what do we learn from the text? (Besides the fact that Scalia holds hilariously insupportable notions about the properties of language—that "Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn't change"?)
According to Scalia, he sincerely believes that the Devil exists, as a real supernatural person, capable of evil enchantment. The lack of visible diabolical magic in our times is part of the Devil's crafty strategy:
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
If you replace "the Devil" with "racial discrimination," this is more or less Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent against the decision of the majority, including Scalia, in the Voting Rights Act case, Shelby County v. Holder. But Scalia is perhaps not as rigorously informed about things that happen in the visible world as he is about the invisible. He told Senior that he quit reading the Washington Post because it was "so shrilly, shrilly liberal." Instead, Scalia said, he restricts himself to reading the Wall Street Journal and the crackpot Washington Times. Or rather, skimming them. His real news source?
I get most of my news, probably, driving back and forth to work, on the radio.
Of all the Scalia explanations scattered through Senior's piece, this one might explain the most. Why did Scalia interrupt his concurring opinion in Arizona v. United States for a rant against the Obama administration's immigration enforcement policy, which was not before the court? Where did he get the idea that the continued existence of the Voting Rights Act demonstrated "a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement"? He's a talk-radio guy. He's trying to move the needle.
[Image via Getty]