MINNEAPOLIS -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia described the U.S. Constitution on Friday as an "enduring" document that makes the United States an international government leader.
Americans do not identify themselves by blood, color, race or religion, but by political principles, Scalia told several hundred people at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
"In the field of government, we're the oldest and the most experienced and the best, and it is the Constitution of the United States that is responsible for it," Scalia said.
He said he's dismayed at how many Americans do not understand the Constitution. It's not the Bill of Rights that makes the document distinct, but its separation of powers, Scalia said.
He said the "gridlock" of passing laws may seem like an obstacle to lawmakers, but actually serves to protect the citizens -- even as lawmakers rush for legislation in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The most important protection of individual liberties is the difficulty of enacting laws," he said. "That's our system. If you don't like it, then you don't like the Constitution."
Last month, he was among five Supreme Court justices who attended President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on the attacks. Scalia attended the session with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer.
On Friday, Scalia also described the Constitution as "enduring," a document that faces a majority that often points to it to support social policies.
He said the constitution does not change, adding that there is a perceptual loss of knowledge about it.
Scalia, 65, was nominated by President Reagan to the Supreme Court, taking his seat in September 1986.
Before his appointment to the high court, Scalia served on the federal appeals court in Washington and also taught at several law schools, including Georgetown University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago.
He was born in Trenton, New Jersey.
Scalia's son, Eugene, also has been in the headlines. The younger Scalia is President Bush's nominee as labor solicitor for the Labor Department. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., has said he will oppose the nomination, arguing that Eugene Scalia's views on labor protection laws make him the wrong man for the job.
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