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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Justice Antonin Scalia and the presidential race

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is interviewed by

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is interviewed by The Associated Press at the Supreme Court in Washington. (July 26, 2012) Credit: AP

Imagine if one of the U.S. Supreme Court's Democratic-appointed, liberal-bloc judges said flatly in an interview -- just after the Colorado theater massacre -- that the Second Amendment leaves room for U.S. lawmakers to regulate guns.

Gun-control groups might applaud the jurist's independent willingness to live in the real world and stand up, if only to say assault-weapons curbs "will have to be decided" by the court. Somebody with a conservative media perch might say something more critical -- say, about the destructive effects of legislating from the bench, prejudging or ex parte comments.

But it was Justice Antonin Scalia who actually voiced this broad analysis in a recent interview on Fox News -- one of a number of news-organization visits in a publicity push for his new book, co-authored with Brian Garner, "Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts."

For his respected legal mind, his force of personality, his refinement and his position, Scalia gets some public cosseting when sharing his views. But he's been media-friendly only on his own terms. In 2003, at a speech he was giving in a school in Mississippi, federal marshals forced two reporters in the front of the auditorium to erase their tape recordings of his remarks -- a move for which Scalia and the marshals later apologized.

Scalia, 76, has been so high profile for so long in Washington, it is easy to forget his New York roots. Living in Elmhurst from age 6 on, he attended public school before obtaining a scholarship to Xavier High School in Manhattan. His Sicily-born father was a professor of Romance languages at Brooklyn College; his mother was an elementary-school teacher.

In 1986, when President Ronald Reagan chose Scalia for the high court, none other than Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo told reporters: "He should be confirmed immediately. . . . I'll take on the whole Democratic Party if they try anything on Scalia."

Now a new round of Scalia-media-mania takes hold.

Professor Monroe Freedman at Hofstra University Law School, widely regarded as a legal ethics expert, said Tuesday he has "no objection to his publishing the book, though there's a great deal of nonsense" in the points it espouses.

"I don't think Scalia has said anything improper or injudicious in the interviews that I have seen," -- even if "they have been extremely easy on him and failed to ask important follow-up questions," Freedman said.

Freedman has criticized Scalia before, finding contradiction between the judge's rationale for declining to recuse himself in an environment case touching Scalia's longtime friend, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and the judge's previous participation in the historic Bush v. Gore case.

Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also a Reagan appointee, also expounds views outside court. Posner slammed Scalia's recent dissent in the Arizona immigration case -- part of which, he said, "had the air of a campaign speech."

Scalia rebuffed the criticism in his interviews.

Scalia's latest book -- there have been some 350 by Supreme Court judges -- comes out amid a presidential campaign, the outcome of which could affect when he retires.

Last week, a liberal activist tweeted the names of four justices, including Scalia, who are 73 or older, as "reasons you can't vote for Mitt Romney."

Partisans on the other side, of course, see the same set of facts as four reasons to unseat President Barack Obama.

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