Justice Scalia warns against 'bureaucrat' judges

Supreme Court justice says low pay discourages successful lawyers from seeking judgeships, and favors those who spend their careers working in the judicial system.

Low pay for federal judges threatens to undermine the U.S. judiciary system by letting it become the domain of provincially minded career judges, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Wednesday.

"Judicial salaries stink," he said while speaking at a Northern Virginia Technology Council event. As a result, he continued, successful lawyers who can earn more in the private sector shun the bench while other lawyers make an entire career of climbing the court system, starting with a municipal or minor state position.

The career climbers are "going to be beady-eyed, cause-y people, more willing to take the veil," Scalia said.

Countries with legal systems derived from Roman law rather than Anglo-Saxon common law already suffer this problem, he said. In places such as continental Europe, judges are consistently promoted through the ranks, so long as they don't make waves, he said. "So you end up with a senior judiciary … that is made up of people who have never met a payroll."

Nonetheless, Scalia said the most fun he has ever had in government service was when he worked in the executive branch during the Nixon and Ford administrations. As a Supreme Court justice, "you don't work with a team of people at all," he said. "You're supposed to have your own opinion, maybe try to persuade others, but it's not teamwork."

Scalia also said he favors televising Supreme Court proceedings, if for nothing else than to show the American people that most of the workload centers around "Internal Revenue code, the [Employee Retirement Income Security Act], the bankruptcy code -- really dull stuff."

Scalia is among the nation's most vocal proponents of the legal theory of originalism - the belief that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the framers' original intent.

It can sometimes be difficult to figure out how the nation's founders would act today, Scalia said. "Sometimes you have to calculate the trajectory of the Constitution," he said. "I acknowledge that I don't have all the answers, but I should not have to persuade you that originalism is perfect. I just have to prove that it's better than anything else."

Proponents of the "living constitution" theory endanger the Bill of Rights by making it subject to reinterpretation, Scalia said. A logical consequence of the living constitution would be similar to the British parliamentary system, under which "whatever the Parliament says is constitutional is constitutional," Scalia said.

Growing intensity around the confirmation of Supreme Court justices in the Senate is a sign that theories other than originalism are destructive, Scalia said. If the high court is central in affirming rights, such as the right to privacy, then politicians find that the most important qualification for a new judge "is that this guy write the kind of constitution I like."

NEXT STORY: Class A Event for Schedule Cs