Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jan Crawford Greenburg

Jan Crawford Greenburg is speaking at my law school today, and I'm in the room listening to her now. She is (was?) a legal correspondent for ABC News, and she has a new book out called Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control for the United States Supreme Court (Penguin Press).

She's talking about the Justices' demeanors, telling how Chief Justice Rehnquist would cut off lawyers in oral arguments as soon as the red light came on. I can imagine that gruff, daunting man startling little lawyers at the end of their time, totally cutting them off. Hey, those are the rules.

Now she's talking about the interactions between Justice O'Connor and CJ Rehnquist, about how the CJ struggled to stay on the court until the very end of his life. Greenburg is casting this in a good light, saying how the CJ overcame these great odds, beat thyroid cancer, and came back to the Court. But do we really want to encourage the justices on our highest Court to continue serving when they're not really in shape to make their best decisions?

I've heard this argument about TVs in the Court. The argument is that if we allow TV coverage, the justices' conditions will be highly public. If their mental acuity is slipping, it will be more apparent with TV coverage than by just reading their opinions (which are mostly written by clerks, anyway). If their physical movements are scrutinized, it will encourage them to step down sooner if they need to. While this might sound heartless, it's a good argument for quality control of the Court. We want SCOTUS to make lasting, credible decisions, so we should encourage conduct consistent with that.

Greenburg is almost done speaking. I'm impressed by her speaking style, but I wish she had spoken more about the mechanics of covering the Court. She mostly told anecdotes about the interactions between the president and the Court and between the justices. She's done what I'd like to do -- turned a law degree into a writing and speaking career -- so I wish she'd spoken more about it. But she does have a book to promote. She has an authoritative speaking and writing style, and she has a blog (yeah!).

Conclusion: I don't know that I'll buy her book, but there's a copy on reserve at the library that I'll check out. If you're interested in the recent history of the Court, you'll probably be interested in her book.

UPDATE: Now she's answering questions. Prof. Horwitz just asked a question about reasoning in decisions, and how that compares as an influence in decisions compared to ideology. In journalism, with those who have a law school background, is there a greater respect for meticulously reasoned decisions over decisions influenced mostly by partisanship?

She's responding to the question, but she's talking about the justices, not journalism. She says that the conservative justices seem to be more resolute, that they hold that they absolutely made the right decision in every case. She's talking about Bush v. Gore, and she says the liberal justices remain convinced that the Court never would have heard the case if the parties were reversed. The liberal justices think the conservative justices are partisan, surprise surprise. I wonder if they ever, you know, flip a coin. Sometimes it seems like it, huh?

4 comments:

Ms. Feasance said...

Word. I was going to ask her to address the recent Linda Greenhouse dust-up at the Times, and how journalists who are married to lawyers are expected to be above suspicion, but by the time that she finished with her Harriet Miers sociology lesson, it was too late.

Anonymous said...

Why did you go to law school if you want a "writing and speaking" career?

Anonymous said...

Because she wants to write and speak about the law, and not just about how shitty and worthless other people are. Shocking, right?

Sharon said...

Amen, Anonymous.