Working under the title "The U.S. Supreme Court: A Faculty Conversation for Constitution Day," four UC faculty members discussed different aspects of issues concerning the court, with UC College of Law Dean Louis D. Bilionis serving as moderator.
|The Constitution Day panel, from left: Christo Lassiter, Howard Tolley, Ingrid Wuerth, Bert Lockwood and Louis Bilionis.|
The presenters and their topics included:
Tolley offered a preview of important civil liberties cases the court will hear in its upcoming term. Included were cases dealing with free speech, the free exercise of religion, privacy, states’ rights and criminal procedure.
He pointed in particular to one interesting twist for at least the earliest cases that will be heard in October: retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor will still be in place on the bench to hear those arguments, but will probably be replaced by a new associate justice when deliberations begin within the court.
Lassiter, a former Judge Advocate in the Marines, expressed his belief that criminal decisions have been among the areas of the law where the current Supreme Court has made its most impactful decisions.
"Overall, I think you’ll have to agree that the Supreme Court under (William) Rehnquest has done quite a lot to move the ball along in terms of respecting primarily the Sixth Amendment, but also equalizing some of the protections we have in street crime and bringing those protections along for white-collar crime as well," Lassiter said.
Wuerth’s scholarship lately has often focused on the issues of prisoners related to the War on Terror, including an article she had authored that was cited in the Hamdi case decision issued by the court last summer.
In her presentation, she tried to explain how the difficulties in ruling on the Guantanamo cases comes back to so many of the issues having truly ambiguous aspects.
"The text of the Constitution has been famously described as ‘An invitation to struggle for the privilege of directing American foreign policy,’ " Wuerth said. "I think if you think carefully about the powers in question and the text available, you’ll completely appreciate the power of those words."
With two vacancies available for President Bush to fill, Lockwood looked at some of the unforeseen historical pitfalls that have come, even as every president has dreamed of the chance of packing the court.
But it usually doesn’t work out, Lockwood said.
For instance, President Ronald Reagan took the advice of his chief of staff, John Sununu, in nominating what they thought would be a dream conservative candidate for the court in David Souter. In practice Souter has turned out to be one of the current court’s more liberal members.
When President Dwight Eisenhower was asked about mistakes he made as president, he said the two biggest ones were sitting on the Supreme Court.
|Christo Lassiter makes a point during his presentation.|
And, as Lockwood added, the process itself can be unpredictable in any number of ways. When President Richard Nixon sent for confirmation to Congress a lawyer some saw as having an undistinguished record, Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska spoke up. "Even if he was mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that there."
Questions and a discussion period followed the end of the presentations, with more than 100 students, faculty and guests in attendance.