One of the most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and one of the most liberal ones sparred Friday over capital punishment, the direct election of senators and various other constitutional questions during a rare public debate that highlighted their philosophical differences.
Antonin Scalia, 74, the longest-serving current justice, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and Stephen Breyer, 72, appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton, shared the stage in front of a crowd of thousands during a West Texas event organized by Texas Tech University Law School.The most interesting part to me of this public clash, or at least what's in AP's report, was this exchange:
Scalia said he has no interest in what legislators intended when making a particular law. Breyer countered, saying judges need to go back and find out the purpose legislators had when crafting a bill.I think I tend to agree with Scalia on this one. Legislative intent is a muddy measure. In practice, legislators' recollection of their own intent tend to be protean, adjusting to the contingencies of the moment as opposed to a strictly historical assessment.
"I don't at all look to what I think the legislature thought," Scalia said. "I frankly don't care what the legislature thought."
Breyer responded quickly, saying, "That's the problem," which brought thunderous laughter from the crowd.
"You've got to go back to the purpose of the legislation, find out what's there," Breyer said. "That's the democratic way, cause you can then hold that legislature responsible, rather than us, who you can't control."
Whaddya think? As the Texas House and Senate begin filing bills, do legislators' intentions matter or only what's written on the page?