Univ. of Washington law profs. criticize Scalia's legacy over lack of 'empathy'

A panel of law professors gathered Wednesday at the University of Washington Law School to discuss “the legacy” of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia but capitalized on every opportunity to scold his “polarizing” personality.

“He was brilliant; I don’t think he was quite that important,” Professor Neil Richards said, referencing a recent interview with one of Scalia’s former law clerks who called the late Justice one of the ten greatest figures in Anglo-American law.

“In looking at his legacy, I think his greatest flaw … was a lack of empathy, and I mean this in two respects,” Richards continued. “One, I think he just had a difficult time understanding people who were different from him. I didn’t see a lot of empathy in Justice Scalia’s opinions for people who were different. At a technical level, too, he lacks an empathy for his colleagues – with [sic] his withering dissents and concurrences got in the news they made soundbites – but they didn’t wear well with his colleagues. If you work with someone for 30 years and anytime you disagree with someone you’re either a fool or a villain, it’s difficult to work with that person.”

One student in the audience asked Richards to expand on his criticism, noting that a few of Scalia’s Supreme Court colleagues were close friends with the late Justice.

“We were best buddies,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said after his passing.

In response, Richards walked back his earlier criticism by denying the accusation.

“I don’t think I said Justice Scalia lacked empathy,” Richards replied. “If I did, then I misspoke. What I was trying to suggest is that there were limits to his empathy and the people he knew invariably liked him and loved him.”

The event, co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society, was moderated by Nancy Staudt, the school’s dean. Staudt called the event an opportunity to hear “from a wide range of people” but all three panelists seemed to share a mutual distaste for Scalia.

Professor Greg Magarian matched Richards’ indignation, saying no Justice “has so skillfully or consistently expressed such rage, resentment, and contempt toward the people and ideas he disfavored.”

Magarian then referenced an interview with Scalia in which the Justice adamantly defended his religious beliefs.

“Few moments seem more characteristic to me of Justice Scalia than that: an angry defense of an angry god,” Magarian said. “I hope he finds more joy in the next life than he expressed to us in this one.”

A third panelist, Professor Lee Epstein, recalled one class when she had Scalia guest lecture on constitutional law.

“A couple of months ago Justice Scalia came to teach my constitutional law course and, I have to say, it wasn’t a great day,” she said.

The panel of professors concurred that Scalia’s interpretive methodology was questionable and criticized his “originalism”—attempting to adhere to the original intent of the constitution.

His method, according to Magarian, “always seemed to take the form of: look stupid, it’s simple.”

Campus Reform reached out to Staudt for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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