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Justice Scalia makes up with University of Chicago

Updated: February 14, 2012 11:49AM

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia kissed and made up with the University of Chicago Law School, where he used to teach, giving a speech Monday at which he defended his ruling against gun control and urged students to settle for a job at a law firm in Cleveland if it would let them work reasonable hours.

Three years ago, Scalia told a conservative Federalist Society audience in Chicago he “regrets” the turn to the left the University of Chicago Law School took after he departed in 1982: “I don’t think the University of Chicago is what it was in my time. I would not recommend it to students looking for a law school as I would have years ago. It has changed considerably and intentionally. It has lost the niche it once had as a rigorous and conservative law school.”

But Scalia was all verbal hugs and kisses Monday, telling an auditorium full of students, “I’m glad to be back here. A whole lot of what I am intellectually is attributable to this place. The University of Chicago is one of two or three of the most formidable intellectual institutions in the world; a really impressive place. And you’re lucky to be here.”

Dean Michael Schill introduced Scalia by saying, “Justice Scalia is very much a part of the family. I could not be prouder than I am today in welcoming him back home.”

As a professor, Scalia became faculty advisor to the University of Chicago’s fledgling chapter of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group that would grow to help shape the modern judiciary, getting its members such as Scalia appointed to many of the United States’ highest courts.

Scalia delivered a speech on his favorite topic: defending “originalism,” looking for the framer’s intent in the constitution instead of guessing at what he mockingly called “evolving standards.”

In the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, Scalia and the other members of the 5-4 majority found the second amendment’s “right to bear arms” made bans on hand guns illegal.

A student asked Scalia why he would not apply his “originalist” analysis to the meaning of the word “arms,” which meant “muskets” at the time the constitution was being written — not modern weapons.

The word referred to weapons that could be carried by hand, Scalia said.

“Their notion of what arms can be borne is different from the modern reality of what arms can be borne,” Scalia said. “It didn’t include canons … Where it gets a little dicey is hand-carried rocket-launchers that could bring down a plane. We haven’t gotten to that.”

Asked what advice he would give law school students, Scalia told them not to work too many hours at their firms.

“Try to find a practice that enables you to maintain a human existence … time for your family, your church or synagogue, community … boy scouts, little league,” Scalia said, noting he started with Jones, Day in Cleveland. “You should look for a place like that. I’m sure they’re still out there. Maybe you have to go to Cleveland.”

Noting his son joined a California-based law firm, Scalia laughed and said, “My son Gene went to Gibson Dunn. Any big firm has the basic ethos of its head office and if the head office is in La La land, it’s gonna be a little laid back.”

After Scalia left the University of Chicago in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan named him to the federal bench, the school hired Barack Obama as a senior lecturer. One of Obama’s most popular classes was “Current Issues in Racism and the Law.”

Scalia told the Federalist audience three years ago to stick to conventional classes such as the one he taught on contracts.

“I took nothing but bread-and-butter classes, not “Law and Poverty,” or other made-up stuff, Scalia said to laughter. He said his advice to law students at the time was: “Take serious classes. There’s so much law to learn. Don’t waste your time.”

After his speech Monday, Schill gave Scalia a 1794 copy of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and told him he could read it to help him with “the framers’ thoughts.”

Scalia will be back to speak to individual law classes Tuesday.

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