Justice Scalia Addresses the Youth of America

By Mark Walsh — April 09, 2008 2 min read
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of high school students today that they should study the U.S. Constitution and its Framers in greater depth and should only consider the legal profession if they are prepared to work hard.

“How many of your have read the Federalist Papers?” the justice asked a group of students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. When several hands shot up, he said, “All of them?” Far fewer hands appeared.

“You should have a hardback, dogeared copy on your desk” of the set of articles that urged adoption of the Constitution, Scalia told the students, who attend one of the most highly regarded public high schools in the nation. “We identify ourselves as a people by fidelity to certain principles of government.”

Scalia welcomed the students to a conference room at the Supreme Court as part of the “Students and Leaders” series of the C-SPAN cable networks, which aired the hourlong session live on C-SPAN 3. (Note: I couldn’t get the video to work on C-SPAN’s Web site, but that could be a kink on my end. The network says it will re-air the session at 7 p.m. Eastern time Saturday on C-SPAN 2.)

Other justices who have conducted similar sessions include Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and the now-retired Sandra Day O’Connor when she was still on the court.

Scalia praised Thomas Jefferson High and the Fairfax County public school system in suburban Washington, of which the school is a part. He noted that seven of his children attended Fairfax County public schools, which he called “one of the best public school systems in the country.”

The young people didn’t question Scalia about student rights or other school law matters. They asked him about such issues as the “living Constitution,” eminent domain, federalism, the role of international courts in U.S. law, and the exclusionary rule.

The students did ask about Scalia’s school days and what prompted his interest in the law.

“I was somewhat of a ‘greasy grind’” in school, the justice said. “I studied real hard.”

He noted that afteschool sports were not always as organized and scheduled as they are for the youth of today.

“My mother didn’t drive us anywhere” for sports, he said. “Parents would say, ‘Go out and play.’”

Scalia said he was motivated to study law after college only “for absence of anything better.”

“When I got out of college, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do. I had an Uncle Vince--most Italians have an Uncle Vince--who was a lawyer,” and he seemed to enjoy his work, Scalia added.

“Don’t go into the law because your parents want you to,” Scalia said. “You’re going to spend most of your life working.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.