Critics of conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia were quick to raise red flags Monday after he emceed a member seminar on the Constitution at the behest of Tea Party caucus leader Michele Bachmann. MSNBC hosts Lawrence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow, in particular, suggested his visit was a symptom of the increasing politicization of the Court — particularly among its conservative members.
But Monday evening, two progressive members who attended the seminar vouched for Scalia and the event, and dispelled the notion that anything untoward happened.
According to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who addressed reporters just outside the forum, the event was “incredibly useful, partly just to get the sense of Justice Scalia as an individual.”
“He talked about a couple of old cases where the Congress made mistakes, he felt, in its judgment,” Schakowsky added. “But they were not especially of a political nature…. This was pretty dry, actually.”
All members of the House were invited and allowed to bring a staff member. “There was absolutely no effort to keep anyone away,” Schakowsky added. “Certainly it’s useful to have justices come.”
Rep. Jerrod Nadler (D-NY) — one of the foremost Constitutional experts in Congress — largely confirmed Schakowsky’s interpretation, noting that Scalia steered clear of addressing timely issues, and that the members who asked questions weren’t pressing him for legislative guidance.
It’s easy to understand why skeptics were concerned about the event. It was hosted by the activist wing of the Republican party. It was attended by Scalia, one of the most unabashedly outspoken and conservative justices in modern history. It comes at a time when he and Clarence Thomas in particular have tested and crossed the boundaries of political propriety as members of the Court.
But Monday’s event appears to have been on the level.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.