Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Heroic Book Review

I’d like to add my voice to the chorus praising Scalia Speaks, the recent compendium of speeches given by the late, great justice. In doing so, let me offer a couple of points that I’ve not seen made elsewhere.

First, because this is book is not only entertaining and thoughtful but also accessible to nonlawyers — the speeches are divided into six categories, only one of which is “On Law” — it’s a good way for us conservative lawyers to show our laymen friends the reason we loved Justice Scalia as we did. This sort of enthusiasm is not always easy to explain without eyes glazing over; to outsiders, I suspect, the Federalist Society annual meeting must seem like Sesame Street’s “National Association of W Lovers,” where W stands for Scalia. Anyway, I’m giving a copy to my parents as a Christmas present.

Second, the insights are as fresh as today’s newspaper. Case in point: The day I finished the book some columnist criticized on separation of powers grounds those politicians who attack judges; well, Justice Scalia explains more than once in this book that, when judges act as politicians, their being treated as such is not only inevitable but even desirable, if the only alternative is to accept their rule as that of a new aristocracy.

Now, it is common knowledge that one of the book’s editors, Ed Whelan, is a good friend, so to show that I am not in the tank, let me note: (1) the editors are not perfect, and I did find one typo in the book (on page 310, the failure to capitalize the last word in “Grand Army of the republic”); (2) Justice Scalia should have credited Emil Faber rather than simply plagiarizing the latter’s trenchant observation, “Knowledge is good” (page 328); and (3) it was unconscionable for Justice Scalia to characterize, albeit indirectly, our hero William F. Buckley Jr., as “one smart-aleck political commentator” (page 329).

Still, all is forgiven since I now know that Justice Scalia, proud Italian-American Catholic though he was, was also apparently a fan of the Irish-British Protestant and a third hero of mine, C.S. Lewis. The justice pays him this fine compliment: “Had he been a lawyer, C.S. Lewis would have been a magnificent legal writer.” And had he had the chance to read what Justice Scalia has to say “On Faith,” I’m sure Mr. Lewis would have found some way to return the compliment.

A fine book!

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