Book Talk American Justice 2016: The Political Supreme Court

October 18, 2016

Please join Lincoln Caplan for a discussion of his book American Justice 2016: The Political Supreme Court, on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 6:10- 7:00 PM, SLB 128. Commentary provided by Noah Messing ’00.

In his latest book “American Justice 2016: The Political Supreme Court” Lincoln Caplan looks at the Supreme Court’s work during the term that ended in June 2016, which he analyzes for signs of what he argues is the growing politicization of recent High Court decisions. While in theory the judiciary should be free of politics, Caplan argues that decisions including those on the 2000 presidential election, abortion, campaign finance law, and other issues reflect national political divisions. Caplan considers whether the ideal of an objective judiciary is realistic and, what politicization could mean for future cases involving divisive social and political questions.

When the Democrat-appointed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, she triggered concerns about judicial ethics. But the political concerns were even more serious. The Supreme Court is supposed to be what Alexander Hamilton called “the least dangerous” branch of government, because it is the least political. Justices have lifetime appointments to ensure their “complete independence” when deciding cases and controversies. But in the Roberts Court’s most contested and important rulings, it has divided along partisan lines for the first time in American history: Republican presidents appointed the conservatives, Democrats appointed the liberals. Justice Ginsburg’s criticisms suggested that partisan politics drive the Court’s most profound disagreements. Well-respected political science supports that view.

Has this partisan turn made the Court less independent and less trustworthy than the nation requires? The term ending in 2016 included more decisions and developments in almost fifty years for analyzing this question. Among them were major cases about abortion rights, the death penalty, immigration, and other wedge issues, as well as the death of Justice Antonin G. Scalia, leaving the Court evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. Legal journalist Lincoln Caplan dissects the recent term, puts it in historical context, and recommends ways to strengthen trust in the Supreme Court as the pinnacle of the American constitutional system.

Lincoln Caplan is a Senior Research Scholar and the Truman Capote Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. He is author of The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law; Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire; Up Against the Law: Affirmative Action and the Supreme Court; and other books about legal affairs. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker website, a member of the editorial board of the American Scholar, and a contributing editor of Harvard Magazine. He wrote about the Supreme Court as a member of the editorial board of the New York Times.

Noah Messing is Yale Law School’s Lecturer in the Practice of Law and Legal Writing. He graduated in 2000 from Yale Law School, where he was a Coker Fellow. While at Yale, he received the Benjamin Cardozo Prize and the Potter Stewart Prize in the Morris Tyler Moot Court of Appeals program; those prizes are awarded, respectively, for the year’s best moot court brief and to the team that wins the Spring semester moot court competition. Following graduation, Noah worked as a trial and appellate litigator in Washington D.C., as Counsel to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and as Associate Counsel to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.

Sponsored by the Lillian Goldman Law Library.

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