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The Supreme Court in a Constitutional Democracy

Harvard Law School Lecture Series

Steps to the United State Supreme Court lit up at twilight
Steps to the United States Supreme Court, Washington DC, America

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hen it comes to the Supreme Court’s place in American law, democracy, and culture, this past year has been the most momentous in at least half a century. The Court’s decisions on abortion rights, gun rights, religious rights, and the role of the administrative state have fundamentally reshaped the way many understand the Court’s place in the existing constitutional order. The Court’s decisions this past year must also be viewed in light of its decisions in previous years on voting rights and political gerrymandering and decisions anticipated this Term on affirmative action and, once again, voting rights and elections. This yearlong lecture series will bring together leading academics, journalists, and jurists from the U.S. and abroad together to examine the appropriate role of the U.S. Supreme Court in a constitutional democracy.

The fall installments of the series will focus on the following topics: To what extent has the current court become primarily a political rather than a legal institution (“Law and Politics in the Roberts Court”)? Is stare decisis still a meaningful constraint on Supreme Court judicial decision making, if it ever was (“Stare Decisis and the Roberts Court”)? As a constitutional and political matter, are changes to the Court necessary, if so, what changes to the court’s structure are possible, and would they make a meaningful difference (“Reforming the Court”). We will also offer additional installments in the Spring term.

Law and Politics in the Roberts Court

Monday, September 19, 12:30-1:30 PM

What is the relationship between law and politics in the Supreme Court? And has it changed in our current moment? Does the Roberts Court break from prior judicial understandings or popular expectations about the role of law and of politics in judicial review? Do changes in American politics over time help us to better understand the current moment? And should the relationship between law and politics in the Roberts Court affect how we think about the power of the judiciary more broadly? Join us in exploring such questions with leading voices from a range of perspectives including legal academia, political science, civil rights advocacy, and journalism.  

Moderator:
Daphna Renan, Peter B. Munroe and Mary J. Munroe Professor of Law

Panelists:
William Baude, Professor of Law & Faculty Director of the Constitutional Law Institute, University of Chicago Law School

Amanda Hollis-Brusky, Professor of Politics & Chair of the Politics Department, Pomona College

Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent, The New York Times

Leah Litman, Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

Janai Nelson, President and Director-Counsel, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

 

Stare Decisis and the Roberts Court

Monday October 3, 12:30-1:30 PM

The doctrine of stare decisis is deeply contested in the Roberts Court.  Although all of the Justices articulate their commitment to stare decisis, some commentators describe the actual force of the doctrine as vanishingly weak in the Supreme Court.  Others believe that the doctrine expands rather than constrains judicial discretion by allowing the Justices to adhere even to mistaken precedents that they like while leaving them free to jettison precedents, such as Roe v. Wade, of which they disapprove.  This distinguished panel will address both positive questions involving the role that stare decisis plays in the Supreme Court today and normative questions concerning the constraining force, if any, that the doctrine ought to exert.

Moderator:
Richard Fallon, Story Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Panelists: 
Michael Dreeben, former Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, Distinguished Lecturer at Georgetown Law, and partner at partner at O’Melveny & Myers

James GibsonSidney W. Souers Professor of Government, Washington University in St. Louis

Tara Grove, the Vinson & Elkins Chair in Law, University of Texas School of Law

Darren Hutchinson, Professor of Law and John Lewis Chair for Civil Rights and Social Justice; Director of Community and Inclusion; Chief Diversity Officer

Kimberly Robinson, Supreme Court Reporter, Bloomberg BNA

 

Reforming the Supreme Court

Wednesday, November 9, 12:30-1:30 PM

Does the Supreme Court need reform? If so, of what kind? The past few years have seen renewed calls for court reform, with proposals ranging from adding new Justices to limiting their terms to reshaping the Court’s jurisdiction. Why has the issue come to the fore now, and what reasons are there for or against the proposed reforms? This panel of experts will discuss the experience of the recent Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, along with proposed changes to the Court’s membership, structure, and powers.

Moderator: 
Stephen Sachs, Antonin Scalia Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Panelists: 
Rosalind Dixon, Professor of Law and Director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law, UNSW Sydney

Richard ReJoel B. Piassick Research Professor of Law, University of Virgina School of Law

Cristina Rodríguez, Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law & Counselor to the Dean, Yale Law School

Maya Sen, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Neil Siegel, David W. Ichel Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science & Associate Dean for Intellectual Life, Duke Law School

 
U.S. Supreme Court building, looking up towards the sky from the bottom of the stairs.

Lecture Series Organizers

Guy-Uriel Charles, Charles Ogletree, Jr. Professor of Law

Glenn Cohen, James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law; Deputy Dean; Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics

Richard Fallon, Story Professor of Law

Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law; Director, Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law

Daphna Renan, Peter B. Munroe and Mary J. Munroe Professor of Law

Stephen Sachs, Antonin Scalia Professor of Law