Ralliers: Scalia unwelcome
Close to 50 NYU law students and members of the New York community lined the sidewalk outside of Vanderbilt Hall yesterday afternoon to protest Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was being honored by a student-run law journal.
Scalia visited NYU to receive an honor from the members of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law , which is dedicating their 2005 issue to Scalia.
Scalia is the subject of controversy for his dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, in which he criticized the decision to overturn a law that criminalized sodomy. While on the court he voted for the right to desecrate the American flag, and against the right to abortion and the right to engage in homosexual sex.
Prior to the dedication ceremony, Scalia met with law students for a Q-and-A session in Tishman Hall. The Q-and-A had limited seating - the audience was chosen randomly from students who RSVPed - and was closed to the press, though the discussion was simulcast on a projector across the hall.
As he fielded questions from the students, Scalia defended his methods of judicial interpretation, known as originalism, or interpreting the Constitution to mean what the framers originally intended.
"The constitution is not a living organism," Scalia said, espousing his belief that the Constitution's interpretation should not change over time. "It's a legal document."
This theory of judicial interpretation supports change through legislation and persuading fellow citizens to pass laws, rather than using decisions of the Supreme Court to create legislation.
"The Supreme Court is essentially writing a new Constitution," he said.
The Q-and-A opened with hostility as audience members expressed frustration with many of Scalia's opinions.
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.
Though Scalia also took questions about the death penality, abortion, desegregation and LGBT rights, many students were disappointed with the format of the discussion and the lack of time allotted for questions.
"I would've liked to have seen more questions about his methods rather than the hot-button issues," law student James Temple said.
A planned protest in Washington Square Park followed the Q-and-A, which drew activists from OUTLaw, an organization of LGBT law students, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the NYU Black Allied Law Students Association and the NYC Chapter of the National Organization of Women. The group held signs that read "Scalia Go Home To the Dark Ages" and "Repeal Scalia," and wore homemade t-shirts reading "Scalia Not My Chief Justice."
"Gifted people can either use their talents to help other people or hurt other people," said Bert Leatherman, a law student and the protest's organizer. "We all agree that Scalia has used his gifts to hurt people."
After listening to brief speeches around the fountain, the group organized and marched to Vanderbilt Hall, the law school building. The group stood inside the school's courtyard and chanted "Sexist, Racist, Anti-Gay, Nino, Nino, Go Away!"
"Scalia has got such a backwards world view and he wields so much power," said Dave Hancock, a Gallatin sophomore who joined the protest mid-march. "To be honored at a so-called progressive school is sickening."
Unsatisfied with the effect of their protest, the group quickly moved outside the law school and onto the corner of West 4th and MacDougal streets. They surrounded the first-floor room in which Scalia was receiving his honor and continued to chant and wave signs at bystanders. Some protesters wrote "Honk 4 Justice" on the back of their signs instigating cabs and cars to increase the noise volume.
Shortly after the protesters moved to the streets, Vice Dean Clay Gillette and NYU security hurried outside to speak with the organizers.
"We're not the nannies of the group," Leatherman said after Gillette approached him.
Although the group had initially negotiated with the dean to protest inside the Vanderbilt Hall courtyard, protesters cited their right to assemble on public sidewalks and refused to move. Gillette stood in front of the law school entrance and watched the remainder of the protest, but would not comment on the event.
The protesters' voices began to give out as they continued their chants the entire length of the ceremony. When word spread that the ceremony was finished, the group quickly moved around the back of the law school building to confront Scalia as he left the building. Students stood behind a police barricade, chanting and waving signs, as Scalia exited Vanderbilt Hall and was ushered into a reception in D'Agostino Hall across the street.
"We're going to keep showing concern no matter what [Scalia] does," law student William Guilford said. "That's what we want him to see."
Some students were frustrated by the protesters' anger towards the law school when the decision to honor Scalia was chosen by an all-student organization.
"We are an institution of learning," Law Republicans President Clark Wohlferd said. "The idea is to challenge each other and debate. A big protest threatens to take that away, cutting off dialogue instead of engaging in dialogue."
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