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In rare public debate, Justice Scalia admits to not caring about intentions behind laws

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One of the most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and one of the most liberal ones sparred Friday over capital punishment, the direct election of senators and various other constitutional questions during a rare public debate that highlighted their philosophical differences.

Antonin Scalia, 74, the longest-serving current justice, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and Stephen Breyer, 72, appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton, shared the stage in front of a crowd of thousands during a West Texas event organized by Texas Tech University Law School.

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They particularly clashed on the question of capital punishment.

Scalia argued that while there’s room for debate about whether the death penalty is a “good idea or a bad idea,” it is not cruel and unusual punishment.

“There’s not an ounceworth of room for debate as to whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because, at the time the Eighth Amendment was adopted — the cruel and unusual punishments clause — it was the only punishment for a felony. It was the definition of a felony. It’s why we have Western movies because horse thieving was a felony.”

Breyer said 200 years ago, people thought flogging at a whipping post was not cruel and unusual.

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“And indeed there were whipping posts where people were flogged virtually to death up until the middle of the 19th century,” he said. “If we had a case like that today I’d like to see how you’d vote.”

The two bandied about other issues, including Brown vs. The Board of Education, the landmark high court decision in the 1950s that outlawed school segregation case, cable television rulings, and how they view cases that come before them.

Later, Scalia returned to the issue of flogging, saying it’s “stupid” but “not unconstitutional, which is stupid. There’s a lot of stuff that stupid that’s not constitutional.”

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Scalia said he has no interest in what legislators intended when making a particular law. Breyer countered, saying judges need to go back and find out the purpose legislators had when crafting a bill.

“I don’t at all look to what I think the legislature thought,” Scalia said. “I frankly don’t care what the legislature thought.”

Breyer responded quickly, saying, “That’s the problem,” which brought thunderous laughter from the crowd.

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“You’ve got to go back to the purpose of the legislation, find out what’s there,” Breyer said. “That’s the democratic way, cause you can then hold that legislature responsible, rather than us, who you can’t control.”

At the end, the two were asked what they would change about the Constitution.

“Not much,” Breyer said. “It’s a miracle and we see that through” our work.

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Scalia called the writing of the Constitution “providential,” and the birth of political science.

“There’s very little that I would change,” he said. “I would change it back to what they wrote, in some respects. The 17th Amendment has changed things enormously.”

That amendment allowed for U.S. Senators to be elected by the people, rather than by individual state legislatures.

“We changed that in a burst of progressivism in 1913, and you can trace the decline of so-called states’ rights throughout the rest of the 20th century. So, don’t mess with the Constitution.”

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Breyer countered that change has sometimes been needed.

“There have been lots of ups and downs in the enforcement of this Constitution, and one of the things that’s been quite ugly — didn’t save us from the Civil War — is that there is a system of changing the Constitution through amendment. It’s possible to do but not too easy.”

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‘Smart rats jump a sinking orange ship’: Columnist predicts more Republicans will flee Trump

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New York Times contributing columnist Wajahat Ali predicted that more Republicans would likely flee President Donald Trump in the coming weeks.

Already, Trump's own officials, appointees, and staff are lining up to testify to the House committees, despite Trump saying they will not cooperate with any investigations.

"I believe smart rats jump a sinking orange ship, and if you don't believe me, you haven't paid attention to the last week," Ali told CNN's Don Lemon. In the past week, several of Trump's appointees have lined up to give a deposition or testify. Even outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry revealed in a Wall Street Journal interview, that Rudy Giuliani was to be the point person on all things related to Ukraine.

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The White House posted a series of photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Wednesday after their meeting, showing Pelosi being the only person in the room literally standing up to President Donald Trump. It was an image that baffled the mind of at least one CNN panelist as to why the Trump people would be promoting Pelosi.

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Max Boot calls BS on Republicans for trying to claim Syria is Nancy Pelosi’s fault because of impeachment

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In a panel discussion about the letter Trump sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Boot mocked Republicans for suddenly trying to claim that Trump's withdrawal from Syria was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's fault because of impeachment. It is unclear if Republicans are confessing the president is too distracted by impeachment to be making foreign policy decisions or if they are blaming Pelosi for military decisions.

"I mean there's a lot of really lame Republican talking points out there, Don," Boot said to CNN host Don Lemon. "But to suggest, as Rep. Liz Cheney and others have done that somehow Trump's inexplicable decision to give the Turks the green light to invade Syria — that was somehow the fault of Nancy Pelosi because of the impeachment process? What?"

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