WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says members of Congress need to get themselves a copy of the Federalist Papers – and make sure they read it.
Scalia made the short walk from the Supreme Court to the Capitol on Monday to speak at a seminar organized by GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party Caucus. In remarks closed to the media, Scalia told about 50 members of Congress and their staff to "pay attention" and read up on their roles. Attendees described the associate justice as professorial and occasionally playful.
"He said we should all get a copy of the Federalist Papers and read it, underline it and dog-ear it," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who attended the event.
Scalia's lecture had drawn criticism and taken on an air of mystery because of the prohibition on media coverage. Liberal groups in particular hammered Scalia for associating with the Republican-leaning Tea Party movement, saying it displayed a clear bias.
Members of both parties, though, described Monday's lecture as a fairly bland affair, one heavy on legal and Constitutional banter and virtually devoid of discussion on the hot button issues of the day.
"I didn't get the sense that this was skewed at all," said Schakowsky, an outspoken liberal. She deadpanned: "This was a discussion at a very high level. There were lots of Latin phrases being used."
Freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., said Scalia was careful to veer away from current events or matters that could come before the court. Instead, Huizenga said, the Justice outlined his own, already well-annunciated views on the Constitution. Huizenga and other attendees said Scalia reiterated his view that the Constitution is not a living document. And, Huizenga said, Scalia did so in his own trademark style.
"It's established that he has a very wicked sense of humor, he displayed that a little bit," Huizenga said.
Bachmann called Scalia's appearance a success and said she was particularly pleased it was a bipartisan event. She said she counted at least three Democratic members in the audience. Scalia is the first attendee in what Bachmann said will be a regular series of lectures for members on the Constitution and the role of Congress.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Scalia repeated and amplified legal views he had heard from the associate justice before.
"It was Justice Scalia's explication of his views," said Nadler. "They are well established."
Still, the off-the-record nature of Scalia's lecture provoked curiosity. Dozens of reporters gathered outside a conference room in the Capitol Visitor's Center and, for a moment, the door to the room was left open, allowing those outside the room to hear what was being said. Scalia was introduced by Bachmann. Then came the sound of his voice.
"Look, I'm going to tell you some things" Scalia began, but then staff shut the door.