SAN FRANCISCO -- The Constitution's equal-protection clause should not apply to women's rights or to other safeguards against discrimination, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told law students here Friday.
Speaking at UC Hastings School of Law, Scalia discussed legal theories that could come into play if the court battle over same-sex marriage reaches the high court. The equal-protection clause, part of the 14th Amendment, was a response to slavery and should not be updated for modern issues, the associate justice said.
Although he did not discuss same-sex marriage, Scalia said he is an "originalist" and does not believe the Constitution should be interpreted based on current societal opinions.
"You do not need the Constitution to reflect the views of current society," he said during a wide-ranging interview with Hastings professor Calvin Massey. "I interpret it the way it was understood by society at the time."
The discussion, in front of about 320 people, mostly law students, focused mainly on the Constitution. But Scalia also mused on baseball -- he's a Yankees fan married to a Red Sox devotee -- and on pizza; New York's is the best, hands down, he said.
His answers provided a glimpse into the opinions that have made him a target for liberal groups. Early U.S. leaders intended religion to play a major part in the government, Scalia said.
"Don't tell me that the framers of the American Constitution never had that in
"It's not unconstitutional," he said.
He also weighed in on Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who called off plans to burn the Quran on Sept. 11. Scalia called Jones "an idiot," but said the First Amendment allows such acts.
"A lot of stupid stuff is perfectly constitutional," he said.
Despite his views on the equal-protection clause, Scalia noted that laws should not erode institutions such as family and religion. He also argued against race-based affirmative action, saying preferential treatment hurts society.
"I have no problem with helping the disadvantaged," said Scalia, 74, whose appearance coincided with the 24th anniversary of his 98-0 Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court. But affirmative action "shouldn't help the children of black professionals in Chicago."
The justice also bemoaned the state of legal education, saying law schools have become more interested in debating legal theory than producing lawyers. Too few law schools hire experienced attorneys to teach, he said.
Professors "are just philosophers talking to each other," said Scalia, who taught at the universities of Chicago and Virginia. "Somehow you're damaged goods if you've been practicing law."
Students were not allowed to ask questions, but they treated the jurist politely and applauded him several times. Even those who disagree with Scalia respect his work, said Spencer Burrows, a second-year Hastings student.
"He defended his positions the way he writes his cases," Burrows said. "I think all law students can appreciate the way he analyzes cases, even if they don't agree with his conclusions."