In a display of judicial temperament right out of People vs. You Kids Git Off My Lawn, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dissented spectacularly and cholerically from Friday’s same-sex marriage ruling with the declaration that the court — his own court — doesn’t represent the grand geographic sweep of America, that it has “not a single South-westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner.” Then, parenthetically, he delivered this:
Keep digging, Mr. Justice, and maybe you’ll find that pony.
Scalia’s fury is a rear-guard action that proves its own wrong-headedness: Of course California counts.
Scalia — whose remark glibly backhands his California colleague Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in favor of marriage equality — speaks instead for all those people who delight in pronouncing California dead at every setback and disaster.
California, which was briefly its own country, is not only the most populous state in the nation, it’s also the seventh- or eighth-largest economy in the world all on its own, and an idea engine for the whole planet.
California not the “genuine” West? Does Scalia mean the West he sees in cowboy movies, populated by matinee-idol gunslingers and plucky, poke-bonneted ranch wives?
The most western West, from the Rockies to the Pacific, the 49th parallel to San Ysidro, has always been home to people from all over the world who have the gumption to pull up stakes from placid and settled places and start fresh, to invent and reinvent themselves and this country.
President Teddy Roosevelt, in a speech he gave in Ventura 112 years ago last month, understood the synergy of geography and nationhood better than his fellow Harvard man, Scalia: “When I come here to California I am not in the West, I am west of the West .… When I speak to you who dwell beside the Pacific, I, who have come from beside the Atlantic, am speaking to my own people, with the same thoughts and the same ideals.”
People, in fact, like Scalia’s own family. His mother was a first-generation Italian American, and his father came to Ellis Island from Sicily at a time when businesses looking for workers posted “no guineas” signs to keep out Italians.
The Scalias’ New York — vital, prosperous, ethnically churning, the petri dish and the foundry of the nation — was likewise mocked as not being truly American. Yet, thanks to his family and others like them, New York was the nation’s pace-setter across the 19th and 20th centuries, as California is in the 20th and 21st.
Two other contemptuous remarks Scalia sputtered out in his opinion wouldn’t even have been possible without the Golden State:
—“If intimacy is [a freedom], one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by Marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”
—“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
Hippies and fortune cookies — brought to you by California. You’re welcome.
With this Supreme Court session all but over, Justice Scalia should be heading off on vacation. Disneyland, don’t get your hopes up.
Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes