Members of Congress who attended a closed-door forum with Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday said they got some advice on how to keep the Supreme Court out of their hair.
Two of his suggestions: Be as specific as possible when writing legislation, and watch the boundaries set out by the Constitution.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said Scalia emphasized that often, when the Supreme Court upends lawmakers’ work, “it’s because Congress is silent” regarding its intent. Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) said he took away that Congress should be its own “first line of defense” in ensuring that the laws it passes are constitutional.
The talk was hosted by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the chair of the House’s Tea Party Caucus and an advocate for restraining congressional power via the commerce clause and other means. Any House member could attend the event, though, and more than 50 did so, she said. Reporters were not allowed inside, but several lawmakers described the discussion.
At least three House Democrats attended and two of them said the event was worthwhile. “There was nothing partisan here,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “It was Justice Scalia expressing his views.” Nadler said he didn’t know that the House’s Tea Party Caucus was hosting the event until reporters told him afterward.
Nadler said the session was wide-ranging, and that several lawmakers asked questions. In response, Nadler said, Scalia restated his longstanding willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade and reiterated his view that a line-item veto could be constitutional.
Nadler said that Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked about the Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which found that the Environmental Protection Agency has the statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In response to Barton, Scalia noted that Congress can amend the relevant statute if it wishes, Nadler said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who attended and took notes, called the discussion “perfectly suited for a bipartisan audience.” She said Scalia advised lawmakers to get hard-copy versions of the Federalist Papers, but much of the discussion “was pretty dry.”
“This is a discussion going on at a very, very high level right now,” Schakowsky, who is not a lawyer, told reporters after leaving midway. “Lots of Latin phrases from lawyers. I’m not sure I understand them.”
Bachmann said Scalia’s talk would be the first in a series. She said she plans to invite other “people who are known for having an understanding of the Constitution,” continuing next with Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn. Any other Supreme Court justice is welcome, she said.