It's possible for a law to be really stupid but still constitutional, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Wednesday in a lecture at Tufts University.
Scalia's appearance attracted a few dozen student protesters outside the venue. Inside, Tufts' president Anthony Monaco said school officials had to increase seating capacity twice and even turn down ticket requests from some local law students.
Scalia talked about his approach to interpreting the Constitution, calling it a legal document and "not an organism."
The justice also called himself a conservative, saying he'd put more people in jail if it was up to him, just not in violation of that document.
Scalia has served on the nation's highest court since 1986, following a nomination by President Ronald Reagan.
The 77-year-old New Jersey native and father of nine served up a number of quips that drew laughs from the audience.
"Can't scare me," he told a reporter who got in line with audience members to ask a question. "I have life tenure."
Scalia said it wasn't his business whether it was worth shutting down the federal government because of the battle involving the new healthcare law.
"I have a deal with the Congress. I leave them alone. They leave me alone," the judge said.
Scalia said the shutdown hadn't lost him any staff up until now and he wasn't afraid that would happen.
He stayed mum after a question about same-sex marriage, saying he wouldn't be getting "anywhere near" the topic.
After another question, the judge talked about the most difficult decision he'd had to make on the bench.
Scalia said he'd had to follow the law and not his own values in a case involving a Native American child born out of wedlock who was adopted off a reservation without a tribal counsel's consent.
"We had to take the child away from the rancher," he said of the adoptive family. "... That really rubbed me against the grain."
Some students said after the lecture that they'd been impressed by Scalia's talk.
"I was interested in watching the debate that would happen because Tufts has tons of liberals," said 18-year-old freshman Matt Evers from New York City.
Jay Dodd, a 21-year-old senior from Los Angeles who'd helped organize the protest against Scalia, said he wished Tufts had hosted a forum for students to react to Scalia's comments after the event.
"Even though it was a Q-and-A, it was a policed Q-and-A," he said of audience participation in the lecture. "... There should be majority space to talk about this."
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