Justice Scalia’s Last Public Speech: ‘Good Intentions Are Not Enough’

By Barbara Hollingsworth | February 16, 2016 | 11:51 AM EST

Justice Antonin Scalia, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – In his last public speech, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last weekend of natural causes, told his granddaughter’s high school graduation class that being passionately committed to a cause is not as important as making sure that cause is right.

“Good intentions are not enough,” the 79-year-old justice told graduates of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland at their commencement ceremonies last June.

Warning the seniors that “nobody ever proposed evil as such,” Scalia told them that is their responsibility “not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones, not merely in their ends, but in their means.

“That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being. Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, you will be heading in the right direction,” Scalia said.

The justice poked fun at many commencement day platitudes during his address, telling the graduates not to believe them “because many of them are wrong.”

As an example, Scalia brought up the conventional advice to “follow your star,” “never compromise your principles,” or quoting Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true.”

“Now this can be very good or very bad advice, depending on who you think you are,” Scalia said, drawing a ripple of laughter from the crowd.

“Indeed, follow you star if you want to head north and it’s the North Star. But if you want to head north and it’s Mars, you had better follow somebody else’s star.

“Indeed, never compromise your principles unless of course your principles are Adolph Hitler’s, in which case you would be well advised to compromise them as much as you can.

“And indeed to thine own self be true, depending on who you think you are. It is a belief today that seems particularly to beset modern society that believing deeply in something, following that belief, is the most important thing a person can do.

“Get out there and picket! Or boycott, or electioneer or whatever. Show yourself to be a quote – ‘committed person’, that is the fashionable phrase.

"I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, rather than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction.”

Scalia also told the graduating seniors not to believe the “old standby” used “in television news broadcasts, editorials, and all forms of what are meant to be evocative communications… that we face unprecedented challenges.”

“Class of 2015, you should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented,” Scalia told graduates of the all-girls Catholic school.

“Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas, even much different from what they ever were.”

Throughout the centuries, humanity has always had to battle “the forces of nature” and “the forces of man,” Scalia, who was the longest-serving justice on the high court, said.

“It is important not to believe that you face unprecedented challenges not only because you might get discouraged, but also because you might come to think the lessons of the past, the wisdom of humanity which it is the purpose of education to convey is of not much use…

“Much closer to the truth is a different platitude: There is nothing new under the sun,” Scalia said.

The justice also debunked the old chestnut that graduating from high school “is not an end, it is a beginning.”

“I want to tell you that is not true,” the father of nine and grandfather of 36 told the Stone Ridge seniors, noting that “36 is a lot of graduations.”

“There is no more significant rite of passage in our society, no more abrupt end to a distinct age of your life, than the graduation from high school and the departure from home that soon follows…. Your moral foundation, what makes you a good person or a bad one, a success in all that matters or a failure, is now pretty much up to you.”