Activists Take On Justice Scalia

by Julien Ball

Demonstration at U.S. Supreme Court

Within two weeks, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled halfway across the country to speak about religion and the death penalty at the University of Chicago on January 25 and at Georgetown University on February 4.

At the University of Chicago forum, Scalia stated that the “only choice for the judge who believes the death penalty is immoral is resignation.”

Scalia said that the constitutionality of the death penalty was “not a soul-wrenching question” and argued that the death penalty did not violate the 8th Amendment.

In a 1989 ruling, Scalia cast the deciding vote in Stanford v. Kentucky, concluding that the execution of a 16-year-old boy was not cruel and unusual punishment. At the forum, Scalia claimed that the state had the moral authority to act “in place of the Lord in carrying the sword.”

Disgusted by Scalia’s record, Campaign member David Bates challenged his pro-death position. “You have innocent people on death row,” said Bates. “I am scared you’re a Justice. I’m worried!”

Forum organizers tried to turn off the microphone when Bates spoke, but members of the audience supported his right to speak. Bates spoke about his own extensive experience with the criminal justice system as someone who was brutally tortured by Chicago police, forced into giving a false confession, wrongfully convicted, and imprisoned for 11 years. Bates’ remarks received applause from an audience that included many supporters of the death penalty.

Scalia also met opposition from Campaign member Anne Thompson when he spoke at Georgetown University. At the event, Thompson asked Scalia, who professes to be “a devout Roman Catholic,” to reconcile his religious beliefs with his votes in favor of capital punishment on the Supreme Court. The audience applauded Thompson’s question, which was also noted in several national news reports covering the Georgetown forum.

“Justice Scalia plays an integral part in putting people to their death,” said Thompson about her question to Scalia. “I wanted to be able to challenge his views on capital punishment. Maybe this will get people to think more about the death penalty.”

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