Scalia Defends Citizens United Decision, Reflects on Term in Rare TV Appearance

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia participates at the third annual Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington Thursday Oct. 6, 2011. The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and the Newseum presented the third Annual Washington Ideas Forum, which drew together more than 60 policy makers, business leaders, and top journalists for a series of conversations and in-depth interviews about the direction of the country. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)   (National Journal)

In a rare television appearance, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia defended the Court's controversial decision in Citizens United, calling political donations a form of speech.

Justices don't traditionally comment on cases that are pending or the Court just ruled on, leaving the high court's decisions on the Obama administration health care law and Arizona's immigration law off the table. Scalia, the court's longest-serving justice, was not afraid to discuss Citizens United, one of the Court's most controversial decisions in recent years. He said money in the form of political contributions is speech, and therefore should not be limited.

"I think Thomas Jefferson would have said, "˜The more speech, the better.' That's what the First Amendment is all about, so long as the people know where the speech is coming from," he said on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight. "You can't separate the speech from the money that facilities the speech."

To separate speech and money, he said, was "utterly impossible." "Can you tell newspaper publishers you can only spend so much money in the publication of your newspaper? Would they not say this is abridging my speech?"

When challenged over the difference between a newspaper and someone who was "buying the election," as Piers Morgan put it, Scalia said that newspapers endorse campaigns all the time. "They're almost in the business of doing that."

He did say, however, that the people are entitled to knowing where that money is coming from, possibly keeping the door open for transparency laws on political contributions.

One of the most controversial decisions of his tenure, he said, was Bush v. Gore, which he said created the most waves of disagree. But to those who were upset by the decision, he said, "Get over it."

"No regrets at all, especially since it's clear that the thing would have ended up the same way anyway," he said. "The press did extensive research into what would have happened, if what Al Gore wanted done had been done, county by county, and he would have lost anyway."

Often noted among court observers, Justice Clarence Thomas famously shies away from asking many questions during proceedings. When asked if he asked more questions than Thomas, Scalia laughed, "That's a low bar." He said that other justices, like Thurgood Marshall, rarely asked questions. "So leave Clarence alone," he joked.

After the health care ruling, it was reported that there was a falling out between Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia. Scalia, however, flatly denied this.

"You should not believe what is quoted in the newspapers, because the information has been made up or given to the newspapers by somebody who was violating confidence, which means that person is not reliable," he said.

Although decisions don't often come out the way he would like, he has no issue with his job performance.

"I sleep very well at night, knowing I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, which is to apply the Constitution," the always-witty Scalia said. "I do not always like the result. Very often I think the result is terrible, but that's not my job. I'm in charge of making the Constitution come out right all the time."

When looking back at his 26-year career on the Court, Scalia said he was most proud of helping the body to move away from its focus on legislative accomplishments and to return to the Constitution. "I think despite the fact that not everybody agrees with it, I think the Court pays more attention to text than it used to "¦ and I'd like to think that I had something to do with that," he said.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, a quote from Justice Antonin Scalia was transcribed incorrectly. What he said was, "Can you tell newspaper publishers you can only spend so much money in the publication of your newspaper? Would they not say this is abridging my speech?"