Antonin Scalia didn’t coin that expression, but the late Supreme Court Justice, who died one month ago, once delivered a speech that touched on a similarly uncomfortable notion.
Nearly two years to the day before his death, Scalia was speaking to a group of law students at the University of Hawaii, and he was asked about the Supreme Court’s infamous Korematsu decision from 1944. That’s the case in which the Court approved, by a 6-3 vote, the constitutionality of an executive order that forced the internment of all persons of Japanese descent, including American citizens.
Although Scalia unequivocally called the Court’s decision wrong, he also imparted the following admonition to his audience: “But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.”
To explain himself, he referred to an older, Latin expression: “Inter arma enim silent leges … In times of war, the laws fall silent.”
And he went on to say, “That’s what was going on—the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot. That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again—in time of war. It’s no justification but it is the reality.”
I wouldn’t be surprised, either, and I hope I’m wrong about that, but we’d be wrong to presume that it will never happen again because we’re so much better than we were or because we’ve evolved beyond our basic fears and instincts.
Sometimes, in fact, it seems we scare more easily than ever.
Whether or not you agree with Scalia on other points—and there’s plenty of grist for debate—the foregoing remarks reminded me that the price of freedom—and a better tomorrow—is eternal vigilance by this generation and every one to follow.
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