Yes, we’ve heard all about “Tequilagate.” And we think it’s kinda stupid.
Yesterday the Supreme Court kicked off October Term 2006 with oral argument in Lopez v. Gonzales and Toledo-Flores v. United States. (Yeah, you guessed it — cases about the intersection of criminal and immigration law.)
From Linda Greenhouse’s account of the proceedings:
Part of the argument was spent debating whether, for technical reasons, Mr. Toledo-Flores’s appeal was moot, as the government argued. His lawyer, Timothy Crooks, said the case was not moot because under the conditions of his “supervised release” in Mexico, Mr. Toledo-Flores must observe certain rules, including abstention from alcohol.
Justice Antonin Scalia replied that this was not a burden with sufficient real consequences to keep the case alive.
“Nobody thinks your client is really, you know, abstaining from tequila down in Mexico,” Justice Scalia said.
We laughed at that. But had we been in the courtroom at One First Street, we would have sheepishly morphed our laughter into a cough. Per Dahlia Lithwick, who was there:
Nobody laughs. But then, nobody winces or flinches, either. Somehow, a remark that would have flattened us had a Souter spoken it is just a solid day at the office for Scalia. I have no idea where the tequila comment should register on the nation’s macaca-meter. The more interesting question is about Scalia’s deliberate carelessness with language….
Umm, is this really the issue? Or is it just that Nino is one of the nine who hasn’t been brainwashed by the PC police? Accusing Justice Scalia of exhibiting “carelessness with language” strikes us as a bit odd. He is generally agreed to be the finest prose stylist on the Court, even by those who disagree with him vehemently.
Tony Mauro reports that some people took offense at the quip:
The comment raised eyebrows in the audience and offended some who were told about the remark afterward on the grounds that it perpetuates stereotypes about Mexicans.
We disagree. What stereotypes about Mexicans? Isn’t it the Irish who are the alcoholics — or maybe the Russians? The Mexicans, they’re just lazy.
Okay, we jest. But seriously, Justice Scalia’s comment is no more offensive than if the case involved an Irish petitioner and he referred to Guinness, a Filipino petitioner and he referred to San Miguel, or a French petitioner and he referred to Bordeaux wine. Tequila is simply “Mexico’s national drink” (see here).
More explanation from the informative Viva Tequila website:
Tequila is a Mexican liquor distilled from the fermented juices obtained from the hearts of blue agave plants grown in the Tequila Region. The liquor gets its name from the town of Tequila located in the state of Jalisco where production started more than 200 years ago…
The brand “tequila” is controlled by the Mexican government. Anybody interested in its production must comply with strict regulations set forth by the Secretary of Economy (formerly Secretary of Industry and Commerce) who has delegated authority upon the Tequila Regulatory Council…
Justice Scalia mentioned tequila simply because it is a leading liquor in Mexico, where the petitioner currently resides, and where he’s serving out his term of supervised release. There is no ethnic slur here. People need to chill.
Update: More great examples of national beverages in this comment.
Further Update: Some excellent thoughts from Orin Kerr, plus relevant excerpts from the transcript. (SCOTUS transcripts are now available online, for free, shortly after the argument. YAY!)
Justices Ponder Conditions for Automatic Deportation [New York Times]
Tequila Mockingbird: Justice Scalia opens the 2006 term with a bang [Slate]
Scalia’s ‘Tequila’ Remark Raises Eyebrows During Immigrants’ Rights Argument [Legal Times]
Viva Tequila [official website]