Scalia on torture morality: 'I don't think it's so clear at all'

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in an interview Friday that torture isn't "an easy question."

Story highlights

  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says torture isn't "an easy question"
  • Scalia also criticized European rules against individual countries imposing the death penalty
  • He defended unfettered campaign spending
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says torture -- depending on the circumstances, like if a nuclear bomb was planted in Los Angeles -- isn't necessarily off limits.
The justice who's been a mainstay of the high court's conservative wing for 28 years condemned the "self-righteousness of European liberals" who oppose torture "so easily" Friday in an interview with Swiss National Radio.
"I don't think it's so clear at all," Scalia said.
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"I think it is very facile for people to say 'Oh, torture is terrible,'" he said. "You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people.
"You think it's an easy question? You think it's clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?"
Scalia also discussed the death penalty, saying he thinks it's "too bad" that a campaign in Switzerland to re-institute capital punishment has been thwarted by the the country's membership in the Council of Europe, which has made the issue a requirement for all participating countries.
"What are human rights is not written up in the sky, and if it were written up in the sky, it would not be up to judges, lawyers, just because they've gone to law school, to know what human rights ought to be and therefore are," Scalia said.
"And therefore each society's perception of what it believes human rights should be ought to be up to that society, and I think it's very foolish to yield that determinations not only to a foreign body but to a foreign body of judges," he said. "I don't know why anyone would want to do that."
And he brushed off questions about whether Supreme Court decisions opening the door for outside groups to spend unlimited sums of money on elections have hurt the country, saying that "the amount of money that is spent on all elections -- state, local and federal -- in the United States, is less than what women spend on cosmetics for a year, OK?"
He said the alternative is having Congress impose limits on "who can speak and how much who can speak."
"If you think that a fair system of election speech is going to be devised by the incumbent senators and congressmen, you are naive," he said. "They will for sure, as they have in the past, devise a system that favors the incumbent. If that's the choice of evils -- have a system that always favors the incumbent or, you know, let people speak as much as they want with as much money as they want -- I choose the latter. I don't even regard the latter as an evil."
Scalia said he doesn't agree with the notion that outspending the other side is the key to winning elections. He said if people really believe "the masses are so ignorant that they are swayed by television ads," then "let's have a king. Right? Let's have a king."