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Scalia says U. of C. has lost its edge and gone liberal

September 17, 2008

BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times

On the eve of today's 221st anniversary of the U.S. Constitution's adoption, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told conservative lawyers in Chicago that the University of Chicago Law School — where he used to teach — has lost its edge and gone liberal.

Back in the days when Scalia — the court's most vocal supporter of adhering to the text of the constitution — used to teach at the school, which was then more associated with conservative economist Milton Friedman. The courses had more rigor and the school had a more conservative ethos, Scalia told 500 members of the conservative Federalist Society of lawyers at the Union League Club Tuesday.

After Scalia left the school, it hired now-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and started offering classes like Obama's popular "Current issues in Racism and the Law."

Scalia never mentioned Obama or any other professor. But Scalia bemoaned the proliferation of exotic law classes in the country's law schools.

"I took nothing but bread-and-butter classes, not "Law and Poverty," or other made-up stuff, Scalia said to laughter. He said his advice to law students was: "Take serious classes. There's so much law to learn. Don't waste your time."

The question posed to Scalia was what he thought of the ideological change at the University of Chicago Law School since he was a teacher there.

"I regret it," Scalia said. "I don't think the University of Chicago is what it was in my time. I would not recommend it to students looking for a law school as I would have years ago. It has changed considerably and intentionally. It has lost the niche it once had as a rigorous and conservative law school."

The University of Chicago Law School has consistently ranked as one of the nation's top five or 10 law schools in national surveys. Scalia, a Harvard Law grad like Obama, taught at U. of C. from 1977 to 1982. Obama taught there part-time from 1992 through 2004 while he practiced civil right law and worked as a state senator.

Scalia has been cited by Republican presidential nominee John McCain and President Bush before him as the archetype of a "strict constructionist" judge who does not "legislate from the bench." As he does in most of his speeches, Scalia criticized what he called the trend of many of his fellow justices over the last 40 years to usurp legislators‚ prerogative and "rewrite" the "Constitution with decisions on abortion, gay rights and other issues.

"What did I learn at Harvard Law School or at my practice in Ohio or in the federal government that qualifies me to determine whether there ought to be — and therefore is — a right to abortion or to homosexual sodomy or a right to suicide?" Scalia said. "I don't know any more about that than Joe Six-pack."

The Federalist Society, like Scalia, advocates a more conservative approach to interpreting the law.

Just four floors below Scalia at Chicago's Union League Club on Thursday night, the less-conservative Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago celebrated the Constitution's anniversary by presenting awards to Chicago lawyers who fly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to represent accused "enemy combatants."

The lawyers — including Republicans and Democrats — said the Bush administration had to have its hand forced by the Supreme Court to give the detainees any hearings, even though the government has known that it had no evidence against many of the detainees.

"Eighty-six percent of the detainees were not picked up by U.S. military," said attorney Jeffrey D. Colman. "They were picked up by Pakistani security forces at a time when we were offering bounties of $5,000 a head."