"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

-- The Dalai Lama

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Classy... (Updated)

While I am sticking to my vow of not reading any of the law school boards I did check out the XOXO thread linked to from JD2B about Justice Scalia's NYU visit. After glancing over the conversation I wrote it off to just more talk until I read this article, specifically this portion:

In asking about Scalia's dissent in Lawrence v. Texas and his view
that privacy is not constitutionally protected, Eric Berndt, a law student, shocked the crowd by asking, "Do you sodomize your wife?"

Scalia refused to answer the question while the crowd gasped and the administrators promptly turned off Berndt's microphone.

Very classy. I have to agree that perhaps Mr. Berndt could have found a more productive (and mature) manner in which to phrase his question. One that Justice Scalia would have actually answered with a response that could have contributed to the discussion regarding privacy. Instead the result was simply an emotional response from the crowd and a line in the school paper.

Now, obviously I wasn't there and perhaps this article took the incident and twisted it to make Mr. Berndt's question appear obnoxious by taking that one line out of a longer quote, and the question "Do you sodomize your wife?" was actually appropriate in context.

This incident makes me think about the question of how to respect an office or other position (such as President of the United States, or Supreme Court Justice) when you strongly disagree with, and perhaps even personally dislike, the person holding the position. I think that the respect of the position doesn't mean that the individual shouldn't be criticized, but it can (and maybe should) change the way the criticism is expressed.

Update: Wonkette has an email response from Eric Berndt (linked to by JD2B) Some excerpts:

"It should be clear that I intended to be offensive, obnoxious, and inflammatory. There is a time to discuss and there are times when acts and opposition are necessary. Debate is useless when one participant denies the full dignity of the other."

"...I did have a legal point: Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in Lawrence asked whether criminalizing homosexual conduct advanced a state interest "which could justify the intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual." Scalia did not answer this question in his dissent because he believed the state need only assert a legitimate interest to defeat non-fundamental liberties. I basically asked him this question again - it is now the law of the land. He said he did not know whether the interest was significant enough. I then asked him if he sodomizes his wife to subject his intimate relations to the scrutiny he cavalierly would allow others - by force, if necessary"

"We protestors did not embarrass NYU, Scalia embarrassed NYU. We stood up to a bigot for the values that make NYU more than a great place to learn the law. I repeat my willingess to discuss this issue calmly with anyone who respects my identity as a gay man."


whatever said...

I've often wondered the same thing after witnessing horribly immature and disrespectful protests directed at both school and public officials while I attended college. I have a feeling that the ones that partake in such nonsense(and by ones, I mostly mean activist liberals) do not ponder this issue very often. In their eyes, such thinking is part of the "machine" that they loath so fiercely, and they probably take pride in their inability/refusal criticize respectfully.

But hey, the far right can be pretty disrespectful, too. If either far-wing of the political spectrum learned to communicate and act effectively, the results might be uglier than if they simply let themselves be marginalized by their conduct.

DeniseUMLaw said...

Justice Scalia visited our law school last semester and taught my ConLaw class for a day. I posted about that (and the question I posed to him) here: http://musingsonlifelawandgender.typepad.com/life_law_gender/2004/11/lectured_by_jus.html

Prior to his coming, a classmate approached me with the idea that we protest him by turning our chairs around and sitting with our backs to him. I was appalled and said I would not do that. I respect his office if not his views.

Menagerie said...

I'm normally a stickler for decorum, but I have very little respect for Justice Scalia. Sure, the comment was rude, but there's [more than] a decent argument that it was provoked.