Scalia asks if Supreme Court jurists, given similar backgrounds, can express nation's views

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PHILADELPHIA — The presence of three women on the U.S. Supreme Court isn't enough to convince Justice Antonin Scalia that the court has become a diverse body.

In remarks Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Scalia noted that four of the high court's members are from New York City, one is from New Jersey and two are from California.

They are all either Catholic or Jewish. And all nine studied law at Harvard or Yale universities.

Scalia questioned whether the court, therefore, expresses "the deeply felt principles of the country."

Scalia, a conservative jurist, joined the court in 1986.

Speaking to a receptive audience at The Union League, he repeated his criticism of the way the court has reached decisions on gay marriage, public Christmas displays and other issues.

Scalia considers himself a "textualist" who applies the words in the Constitution as they were understood by the founding fathers.

He said it's not always the easiest path to take.

On the issue of flag burning, he found himself compelled to support the right to burn the flag because of the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

"If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag," he said. "But I am not king."

He accused colleagues who try to tease out the underlying values of the Constitution, and apply them to modern life, of "overreaching."

"There are some wonderful decisions that have been made by an overreaching Supreme Court. That doesn't mean they're right," Scalia said.

The justice answered questions for about an hour in an exchange with Princeton University law professor Robert George.

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