Justice Scalia rejects dysfunctional government talk

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 5, 2011 6:03pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday rejected concerns by Americans of a dysfunctional government because of disagreements and difficulty in getting legislation through Congress.

Such complaints escalated earlier this year when Congress squabbled over the debt ceiling while President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate battled with Republican lawmakers, especially in the House of Representatives.

Scalia said the authors of the Constitution deliberately set up the U.S. system of government, with the separation of powers between the various branches, to make the legislative process difficult so only good legislation gets through.

"So Americans should learn to love the gridlock," Scalia told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Senator Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said the vast majority of Americans now view Congress negatively, mainly reflecting the inability to get things done.

Scalia replied that the point he wanted to make was that most Americans do not adequately understand the U.S. system of government and how it is much more difficult to adopt legislation than in some European countries.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman and a Vermont Democrat, said he called the hearing not to examine recent or upcoming Supreme Court rulings, but to discuss the role of judges under the Constitution. Justice Stephen Breyer also testified.

The Supreme Court, with Scalia part of a five-member conservative majority, and Breyer joining the court's three other liberals, has been criticized by Leahy for failing to protect workers, retirees, consumers and small businesses.

Scalia defended the number of 5-4 decisions. He said the court often decided close questions that have divided appeals courts around the country. "You should expect a lot of 5-4 decisions," he said.

Scalia also took exception to most news media and public criticism of the court's rulings.

"Usually, the criticism in the press and the reaction of the public to the opinion has nothing to do with the law," he said. "If they like the result, it's a wonderful opinion ... and if they dislike the result, then it's a terrible opinion."

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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