American Elephants


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by The Elephant's Child

Under their “Notable &Quotable” headline, the Wall Street Journal published “an excerpt from a September 7, 1999 op-ed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, on the most significant development in the law over the past millennium”:

My selection of democratic self-government as development of the millennium assumes—perhaps optimistically—a continuing appreciation of the need for these structural checks. It also assumes, as the precondition for that appreciation, what our Framers would have called a liberal disposition on the part of the people: a reluctance to impose their views by law in the face of significant opposition, a reticence to require others to love all that they love and to hate all that they hate. A society that feels passionately about everything, or that lightly—without a sure and certain need—adopts laws obnoxious to many of its members, cannot sustain democratic self-government, and is fit only to be ruled by others.

The point was put well by the great Learned Hand, in his comments to a group of newly naturalized Americans: “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”


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