MSNBC host Chris Matthews on Monday took a look at landmark Supreme Court decisions in the last 60 years and came to the conclusion that the current conservative court would not have backed a woman’s right to choose, removed prayer from public schools or supported desegregation.
“Does anyone wonder like I do what this Supreme Court – the one personified by Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — would have done with the landmark decisions in the post-World War II era?” Matthews asked in his “Let Me Finish” segment. “I wonder if this court would have backed desegregation in the Brown case. I doubt this pack of conservatives, which includes Chief Justice John Roberts, Sam Alito and Anthony Kennedy, would have voted to knock down ‘separate but equal’ in the 1950s.”
“I doubt this group would have removed organized prayer from public schools back in the 1960s – that decision that ignited the moral majority,” he continued. “I doubt that this court would have recognized a woman’s right to decide on an abortion in the 1970s.”
“Would this court – voting as it does today – have upheld the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, which declared it illegal to refuse access to someone because of race to a restaurant, hotel or a gas station restroom?”
He concluded: “The fact is that we have the most conservative court since the early 1930s, and maybe more conservative than that. These justices, led by Scalia, believe in original intent. They want to judge cases the way the Founding Fathers would. Well, the Founding Fathers – need I remind us all – wrote slavery into the Constitution. It took a Civil War and the 13th Amendment to get it out.”
Speaking to The Catholic University in 1996, Justice Antonin Scalia said his theory of originalism “treats the constitution like a statute, and gives it the meaning that its words were understood to bear at the time they were promulgated.”
“You will sometimes hear it described as the theory of original intent. You will never hear me refer to original intent, because as I say I am first of all a textualist, and secondly an originalist. … I take the words as they were promulgated to the people of the United States, and what is the fairly understood meaning of those words.”
However, Justice Stephen Breyer has argued that the framers meant the constitution to be treated as a living document.
“The court should reject approaches to interpreting the Constitution that consider the document’s scope and application as fixed at the moment of framing,” Breyer wrote in 2010. “Rather, the court should regard the Constitution as containing unwavering values that must be applied flexibly to ever-changing circumstances.”
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down most of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law, but upheld that police could be required to inquire about immigration status when they stop suspects. On Thursday, the court is expected to hand down a decision on President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.
Watch this video from MSNBC’s Hardball, broadcast June 25, 2012.