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Scalia Criticizes Scope of Federal Drug Laws

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #704)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

In an unusual hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee October 5, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia criticized the expansion of federal drugs laws, saying the large number of federal drug cases necessitated an expansion of the federal judiciary that had diluted its quality.

Justice Scalia (
"It was a great mistake to put routine drug offenses into the federal courts," he told the committee, adding that routine drug cases belong in state courts, where the vast majority of criminal cases are heard.

That got words of agreement from committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a former state prosecutor himself.

Scalia's comments came at a hearing in which he and Justice Stephen Breyer discussed with senators the judiciary's role in the US constitutional system. The expansion of federal crimes, including federal drug prosecutions, threatened the "elite" nature of the federal judiciary, Scalia said.

Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia is the longest-serving justice. He has been described as the intellectual anchor of the court's conservative wing. While not generally friendly to criminal defendants -- he is a staunch defender of the death penalty and a critic of Miranda -- he has defended the right of drug defendants to confront the evidence against them by forcing lab techs to testify and he authored the majority opinion holding that warrantless infrared searches violated the Fourth Amendment. He was also a key figure in the court's Apprendi, Blakely and Booker rulings which led to federal sentencing guidelines being declared advisory rather than mandatory.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Take friends w… (not verified)

It's been hard to see Scalia as anyone but a judge whose belief in the supposed rigidity of the constitution seems to waiver with every issue. But before those of us resisting participation in the war on drugs condemn anyone, as Obama is implicitly above, we should be grateful whenever someone sees the light that shone into our cave long ago. And rather than scold them for taking so long, we should gently show them the nature of 3D, as opposed to shadow reality. Bless your heart Justice Scalia, though I am surprised to hear myself say it.

Thu, 10/13/2011 - 10:27pm Permalink
big dave (not verified)

"It's o.k. to treat citizens like crap as long as I don't have to deal with it" This guy is a real piece of work.

Wed, 10/19/2011 - 12:12am Permalink
A (not verified)

In reply to by big dave (not verified)

If it's not a federal deal then the state handles it, if the state handles it, they deal with it the way they want.

Many states would like to decriminalize marijuana but it's like a parent grounding a kid. Parents punish for a certain activity, but once they realize they were misinformed or overreacting, it's a difficult task to go back on all those laws you've laid down. It's the same for the feds, cept they have far more overblown power fantasies and half-assed information than any parent I've ever known!

If it's in each states own hands, this makes it easier for the 420 friendly states to "come out of the closet grow-room" so to speak.

Any time a supreme court judge, or someone with similarly respected judgment, is going to denounce the federal powers, it's a positive thing in my book.

Thu, 10/20/2011 - 3:14am Permalink

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