Members of the Tea Party Caucus led by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., along with other House members, received a master class on the Constitution from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Monday evening.
Scalia, a 24-year veteran of the nation's highest court, was invited to give a lecture followed by a question and answer session to members and staff on relations between the three coequal branches of government. The discussion took place at the Capitol and was closed to the press.
However, several members spoke Fox News following the presentation, most praising Scalia. "He has a unique ability to talk about very complex issues in a simple manner," said freshman Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.
The conversation steered clear of most hot button topics on Capitol Hill. Those in the room said that the new health care law was not mentioned.
Members said there was a discussion on the Constitutionality of the earmarking process, and one member said it appeared that Scalia "took it for granted" that the practice was in fact constitutional.
One Democrat present said Scalia laid out a very thought provoking presentation on the separation of powers. "There is a high level discussion going on in there," noted Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., though she admitted that at times it was "a bit dry."
Scalia provided some reading recommendations for the members, "He said we should all get a copy of the Federalist Papers and read it, underline it, dog-ear it," Schakowsky said.
The Federalist Papers are a series of essays written by founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to lobby for the adoption of the Constitution.
Critics accused Scalia of betraying a partisan tilt by appearing at an event hosted by the Republican Tea Party Caucus, but according to Bachmann, there were at least 3 Democratic members on hand, as well as a large number of majority and minority staff in attendance.
Bachmann felt that the topic brought all parties together. "The Constitution is not a partisan document," she said, "it is an American document."
Scalia was criticized by the New York Times editorial board in December for agreeing to meet with the caucus. "By presiding over a seminar, implying give and take," they wrote, "the justice would give the impression that he was joining the throng - confirming his new moniker as the "Justice from the Tea Party." The board said it would be just as bad for a justice on the left to accept a similar invitation.
However, bipartisan groups on Capitol Hill occasionally invite members of the judiciary to talk about legal issues with them.
The bipartisan Congressional Caucus on the Judicial Branch led by Reps. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., have had nine Supreme Court justices speak to them since 2003. Invitees include conservatives such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia, along with more liberal members such as Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer.
Bachmann said that the next guest lecturer would be Constitutional scholar Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College. She said that the caucus would extend an invite to other justices in the future, whether liberal or conservative.