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The Justice of No

Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed a small victory to the Obama administration, ruling 6 to 2 to uphold the EPA’s authority to regulate coal pollution that crosses state lines.

The two dissenting votes were from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They are not the brightest jurists on the court, but in their dissenting opinion, they made what some legal scholars are calling “hugely embarrassing”, “epic”, a “cringeworthy blunder”, and a “mind-blowing misstatement of a basic fact”.

In the dissent, Scalia wrote “This is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457 (2001), confronted EPA’s contention that it could consider costs in setting [National Ambient Air Quality Standards].”

There is just one problem. The 2001 case they reference was exactly the opposite. The EPA refused to consider costs against health benefits, while the trucking industry was trying to force them to do just that. The Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 in favor of the EPA.

Now here’s the ironic part. The author of that 2001 ruling was Scalia. He not only completely mischaracterized a Supreme Court decision (a bad mistake in itself), it was a unanimous decision that Scalia himself wrote.

I know it is the “highest court in the land”, but what drugs was he on?

[Note that on Wednesday, the Supreme Court updated and corrected Scalia’s opinion. But with one of his main arguments against the case gone, why did he still feel the need to dissent?]



  1. Michael wrote:

    “Scalia and Thomas…are not the brightest jurists on the court.” Out of curiosity, who do you feel is the brightest?

    I’m not going to defend Thomas, but I will defend Scalia. While I vehemently disagree with his opinions and conclusions, I normally find his observations and his reasoning skills to be consistently high. Sure, he adopts colorful and intemperate language, which sometimes seems unprofessional. However, I find him to have the most well-rounded knowledge base of the supremes. For instance, he almost always does the best job of understanding any sort of issue relating to technology. Not perfect, but better than the others. While I tend to agree with the conclusions of other justices more often, I frequently find that their rationale can be weaker or more inconsistent. That’s just my opinion, though.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    I was speaking historically, not comparing them to justices on the current court.

    And not that I’m an expert on the Supreme Court, but the Scalia opinions I’ve read often veer dangerously close to rationalizations for his preexisting beliefs.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  3. bard wrote:

    Scalia will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

    Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 12:49 am | Permalink
  4. Michael wrote:

    “Scalia will be relegated to the dustbin of history.” As are most justices. Sadly, we will have the decisions he helped to craft as reminders.

    Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink