Known for his no-nonsense expressive style, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told the audience at the Museum of the Rockies on Wednesday evening his talk was entitled, "Mullahs of the West: Judges as Moral Arbitors."
In his near-quarter century serving on the country's highest court, judges have increasingly been asked to rule on issues of morality - issues about which justices have no business making decisions, Scalia said.
Whether a woman has a constitutional right to abortion, same-sex couples have the right to marry, the government has the right to put a man to death for his crimes or a person has the right to assisted suicide are all moral questions that have been put before the court, he said.
"These and many similar questions involve basic morality, basic human rights and surely there is a right and a wrong answer to them," he said. "I believe firmly that there is."
Harkening to his vehement belief that the U.S. Constitution should be upheld in its purest form and not interpreted to suit the whimsies of a changing society, Scalia said the judicial branch has changed since he joined the bench in 1986, and not for the better, he said.
"A change occurred in the last half of the 20th century and I am sorry to say that my court was responsible for it," he said. "It was my court that invented the notion of a living constitution."
Before the program, several people stood outside the museum in the rain hoping to get in to hear the justice speak.
Civil litigation attorney Cris Armenta was one of those hopefuls.
"It's a unique opportunity," she said of the justice's appearance in Bozeman. "He's a brilliant writer and a brilliant man, but I don't always agree with his opinions."
Armenta was one of a number of people who were unable to get into the museum's Hager Auditorium to hear Scalia speak.
Also getting wet in the parking lot were two protesters holding signs.
"Corporations are not for people," one placard proclaimed. "Give us back our country!! Give us back our voice!!!"
The sign referred to a recent high court decision to allow corporations to make donations to political campaigns.
During a question-and-answer session following his speech, Scalia defended that decision. He said big corporations "don't give a darn" and give to both parties. Furthermore, he added, corporations are groups of individuals who are entitled to free speech.
As he spoke about constitutional interpretation as in regards to the death penalty or any other "moral" issue, he said that decision belongs to the people. The role of a Supreme Court justice is to interpret the Constitution the way it was intended by the men who wrote it.
"As a matter of democratic theory, there is no more reason to take these issues away from the people than there is to take away issues of economic policy because there is no moral expert to answer them," he said. "Only the people could bring about change by amending the Constitution."
The answer to "value-laden questions should not be provided by seven unelected judges," he added. "Nothing I learned at Harvard Law School qualifies me to determine whether there's a fundamental right to abortion or assisted suicide."
Other justices don't agree, he said, citing a recent majority opinion that noted their position that such determinations reflect "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."
He then quipped, "That is, of course, we, the Supreme Court, who will determine when there has been evolution."