Justice Scalia Says He'll Retire Once He 'Can't Do The Job As Well'

The famously blunt justice also offered his take on "dead white males" and the death penalty.

Justice Antonin Scalia isn't stepping down from the U.S. Supreme Court soon, but he offered some clues Tuesday as to when he might.

In a speech at the University of Minnesota Law School, the longest-serving justice currently on the court said he'll retire whenever he feels he's no longer quite up to the requirements of the job.

"As soon as I think I'm getting lazier and I just can't do the job as well, I'm going to get off there. I want to preserve whatever reputation I have," Scalia said, according to The Associated Press. "If you've lost your smarts, yeah, you should get off. But that hasn't been the case."

Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that those who really deplore the Constitution should "lead a revolution."
Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that those who really deplore the Constitution should "lead a revolution."

That particular comment came in response to an audience member's question. Scalia's wide-ranging address -- part of an annual lecture series at the law school that last year featured Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- also touched on broader aspects of his judicial philosophy and controversial topics such as the death penalty.

As a supporter of originalism -- a legal philosophy that holds the Constitution ought to be interpreted as its drafters originally understood it -- Scalia rejected one counter-argument that the Constitution's adoption by "dead white males" undercuts its validity in modern times.

"Look, you either accept the Constitution as a valid document. Or you reject it. But you can't play it both ways," he said, according to local online publication MinnPost.

You "can't say the Constitution's valid in the way the House and the Senate are composed," the justice said, but then attack other sections on the grounds that they were "adopted by dead white males."

"You gotta be consistent," he said. Scalia went on to offer what seemed like a suggestion to those who seek to substantially rewrite the founding document: "If you believe what you say, you should lead a revolution."

On the subject of capital punishment, which the Supreme Court will be debating a number of times in the coming months, Scalia reprised comments from September, when he said it "wouldn't surprise me" if the current court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional.

Barring such formal invalidation, he told Tuesday's audience of more than 2,700 that the court has already erected procedural barriers to the death penalty that have made it "practically impossible to impose it."

Earlier this month, the court heard two cases -- one from Kansas and the other from Florida -- exploring the limits that the Constitution places on the sentencing schemes of states that still execute people. In the Kansas case, Scalia took a swipe in open court at Justice Stephen Breyer, who made headlines in June when he expressed a desire to, once and for all, reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty.

"Kansans, unlike our Justice Breyer, do not think the death penalty is unconstitutional and indeed very much favor it," Scalia said at the time.

Besides those two cases and the flurry of last-minute bids from inmates wishing to halt their executions -- all of which have been denied -- the justices are scheduled to hear a pair of cases out of Georgia and Pennsylvania that examine the constitutionality of the trial procedures that states use to reach death sentences.

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