Scalia delivered a speech titled "Interpreting the Constitution: A View From the High Court," as part of a constitutional symposium hosted by the State Bar of Georgia. Originalism and trying to figure out precisely what the ratified document means is the only option, otherwise you're just telling judges to govern, Scalia argued.
"The Constitution is not a living organism," he said. "It's a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn't say what it doesn't say."
But an originalist interpretation still provides for a flexible legal system, he said.
"You want the death penalty? Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and enact it. You think it's a bad idea? Persuade them the other way and repeal it. And you can change your mind. If you repeal it and find there are a lot more murders, you can put it back in," he argued. "That's flexibility."
Scalia also took anonymous questions that had been collected by event organizers in advance.
Asked if more regional, geographic and educational diversity on the court would make a big difference in opinions, Scalia said he didn't think trying to have a court that is representative of the population is necessary, using geography as an example.
"As far as I'm concerned, you can find bad judges in every region of the country ... and good ones as well," he said.
Scalia was appointed to the nation's highest court in 1986, making him the longest-serving justice.