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BMG invades the Beltway

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Author: David

Stated otherwise, I’m pleased to say that today’s Washington Post features an op-ed I submitted.  The overall argument is that Justice Scalia’s unfortunate habit of launching personal attacks against his colleagues is bad for the Supreme Court and for the country.

[W]hy is a Scalia zinger entertaining? It’s entertaining because it shocks. It’s entertaining because you cannot quite believe that a Supreme Court justice would treat one of his colleagues with such profound disrespect. When you see it actually happen in black and white, it’s astonishing. It’s a bit like mud-wrestling: appalling, yet difficult to look away from.

Or maybe not mud-wrestling so much as the judicial equivalent of pornography. Like porn, Scalia’s zinger-laden opinions are titillating, but over time they coarsen the culture of which they are a part. Cultural critics lament the “pornification” of advertising, pop culture and other aspects of contemporary society. Legal observers should similarly lament the “Scaliafication” of judicial opinions — especially dissenting opinions, which have a long and honorable history at the Supreme Court….

Like porn, zinger-laden Scalia dissents such as those in King and Obergefell are nasty and degrading. Moreover, Scalia’s zingers add nothing of substance to his opinions; they are there to entertain, not to explain or enlighten. We should not treat them as harmless, “fun to read” guilty pleasures but as a truly unfortunate development in the history of an institution that once served as a model for how to disagree about important issues in a civil manner — something from which not only the legal and political worlds but also society as a whole, would benefit. We would do ourselves a favor by giving Scalia’s clever, but pointless and ultimately harmful, zingers the attention they deserve: none.

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