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‘Pay attention to the Constitution,’ Scalia tells Bachmann group

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave members of Congress what amounted to a largely uncontroversial lesson on the Constitution and Federalist Papers in a briefing this afternoon organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann.

“I told them to pay attention to the Constitution,” Scalia told MinnPost following the hourlong discussion, which included a short question and answer session between lawmakers and the Court’s most outspoken conservative jurist.

More than 50 members and staffers attended the “wonderful civil discussion,” which was closed to the press, Bachmann told reporters in a news conference afterwards. At least three Democrats were present, one of whom said the briefing was “incredibly useful” and non-partisan.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, said Scalia told the members to get a hard copy of the Federalist Papers and keep it on their desks.

“You’re not going to like some of the things I have to say about the ability of Congress to limit the executive [branch],” Schakowsky said Scalia told them. Iowa Republican Steve King later told reporters that was in reference to Congress ceding authority to the executive in recent years, a practice King has frequently (and vocally) opposed.

King said Scalia was “very careful to not address subject matter that may come before the Court.” That includes the recently-passed health reform law, which is being challenged in several federal courts and is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

But while the meeting may not have been controversial in what was said, it certainly was in terms of who said it, to whom and by whose invitation. The Star Tribune’s Kevin Diaz wrote a particularly good summation of many of those concerns, quoting one legal scholar who said it “”suggests an alliance between a conservative justice and a conservative member of Congress.”

Bachmann declined to comment on the substance of the meeting. Asked afterward by MinnPost what she personally learned from the seminar, she replied that it was that Scalia has a good sense of humor.

Bachmann has pledged that her constitutional conservative seminars will be open to scholars who lean toward either party, and said the Supreme Court’s more liberal justices have or will be invited too. That will have to wait at least a month though; the next speaker scheduled is the very conservative Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he also teaches a class on the U.S. Constitution.

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