Politics and Prejudices: The truth about Scalia

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dropped dead at a Texas hunting resort this month, just about everyone felt compelled to say how great he was, even his enemies.

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, a Democrat who likely disagreed with Scalia on virtually everything, told me he was "a gigantic intellect whose thoughts had to be answered, whether you agreed with them or not," something hard to deny.

Cohn, a pretty powerful intellect in his own right, also called Scalia's death "a great loss to the nation," something I found less persuasive. Scalia did in fact stand up for the rights of defendants in criminal prosecutions and trials.

He occasionally surprised people, voting, for example, that people had a constitutional right to burn the American flag if they so choose. Though he normally never saw a cruel punishment he didn't like, Scalia did once hold that the Bush administration couldn't lock up forever and refuse to file any charges against an American citizen captured fighting for the bad guys in Afghanistan. Scalia also charmed the press and won fans because he was socially gregarious and often brilliant sarcastically witty, in a nasty and brittle way.

Whoopee. Unfortunately, he was also a hypocrite and a hater, especially when it came to anyone not sexually "normal."

When his more enlightened colleagues voted in 2003 to decriminalize same-sex, well, sex, Scalia's loathing and hatred fairly jumped off the page of his dissent.

His fellows, he believed had "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda." He clearly believed "homosexual conduct" deserved "moral opprobrium."

A hardline Roman Catholic who apparently even opposed birth control, Scalia was that familiar sort — a rigid moralist who yet believed in situational ethics when applied to ... himself. During the dark years of the presidency of George W., (aka Bush the lesser) Vice President Dick Cheney was a defendant in a crucial case before the nation's highest court.

The question was: Would Cheney have to reveal who secretly met with his energy task force? While the case was proceeding, Scalia happily went duck hunting with Cheney!

When this leaked out, it was expected that Scalia would then recuse himself. Not a chance.

Instead, Scalia banged out a 21-page rant justifying his self-serving actions, stayed on the case — and ruled in favor of his pal. Any lesser judge might have been censured.

But who guards our ultimate, lifetime guardians?

Yes, that was good ol' Nino Scalia.

Superstar attorney Geoffrey Fieger, not a man to mince words, was openly happy at the news he had died.

"How often do you wake up in the morning and realize you are happy because someone is dead?" he told me. Fieger isn't one for pious bullshit. "He was an evil motherfucker," he said, repeating it again, drawing it out for emphasis.

"E-v-i-l m-o-t-h-e-r-f-u-c-k-e-r!" Whether or not you are on board with his upfront language, Fieger isn't alone. Scalia claimed to be an "originalist" who believed the only correct interpretation of the Constitution (his own, of course) is one based on the meaning of the words when they were written.

Never mind that this essentially means any aviation law of any kind has to be invalid. Grown-ups, of course, recognize that the Constitution is a brilliant blueprint for a free society that has lasted so long precisely because it is flexible.

Not, that is, because it is designed to make us live with the exact worldview of a small nation of peasant farmers who, in an industrial sense, were barely crawling out of the Middle Ages.

Even by that standard, Scalia was only an "originalist" when it suited him. Take the Second Amendment. Most scholars and previous Supreme Court decisions have held that what the Founding Fathers meant by it was that the states had a right to raise a temporary militia if trouble broke out.

But Scalia agreed it should mean everyone has the right to keep a weapon that resembles what passed for "arms" in 1787 about as much as an oxcart resembles a jet cargo plane.

He also helped craft the decision that said billionaires should be able to spend unlimited sums to try and influence our elections. Naturally, that's exactly what John Adams and Thomas Jefferson wanted the American Revolution to mean.

They just didn't know that.

Fieger, by the way, raised an interesting question I would guess the national press will be too timid to try to answer: Who paid for Scalia's hunting trip to the luxurious Cibolo Creek Ranch resort where he died? Scalia seems to have been a man of fairly modest means. He had nine children and worked in government service almost his entire career.

Could he have easily paid his own way? Did he?

It doesn't matter now. For the rest of the campaign, Scalia will be a treated as a dashboard plastic saint by the various presidential wannabees in the Republican Party.

They will praise his "strict constructionist" principles, as will the Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Then, they'll do something that shows an astonishing display of contempt for the Constitution they pretend to revere.

Scalia's body wasn't even cold when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he and his colleagues intended to deny President Barack Obama his Constitutional privilege and duty of naming a new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Never mind that he was elected by the people with a mandate to do his job; or that the Constitution says presidents "shall" appoint new justices whenever vacancies occur.

The Republicans couldn't care less. They think they are going to take back the White House next year, and want to hijack the court now. They are the true enemies of democracy and our Constitution, not a few scruffy terrorists.

They just hope you never notice.

Endangered health alert

What would you call someone who would take health care away from 600,000 Michigan citizens, all of them working poor and their families?

Hopefully not, a majority of the Michigan Legislature — but there are plenty of tea party monsters who may try to do just that. Less than three years ago, our lawmakers voted — barely — to sign us on to one of the best federal programs in modern times, which we call the Healthy Michigan Plan.

The federal government offered to pay to extend Medicaid benefits to citizens who were making slightly more than the official poverty rate. This wasn't free health care for welfare queens or the well-to-do; it meant a family of four can now get Medicaid if they made less than $33,000 a year.

We had to pay absolutely nothing. But it took nudging by Gov. Rick Snyder and several votes to get it approved, and even then, the antis still spitefully refused to give the bill immediate effect, which cost the state several hundred thousand.

This year, for the first time, Michigan has to pay a pittance of the cost for this — $108.7 million, a mere 5 percent of the total. (We'll never have to pay more than 10 percent.)

For that, we'll get more than $1.9 billion in often life-giving health care services. That is, if the tea party crazies don't manage to pull the plug. Business likes this program very much, because they get healthier workers at no cost to them.

Most think the program will be easily approved. But keep your eye on this; you never underestimate the irrationality, cunning, or callous nastiness of these fanatics.