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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Supreme Court Justices: Ready for Their Close-ups

As many commentators have pointed out, these days the justices seem to be making more public appearances than ever -- as well as openly discussing their approaches to constitutional interpretation and the role of the judiciary. Dahlia Lithwick observed in Slate last Saturday:
In recent months, Justice John Paul Stevens and Chief Justice John Roberts gave prime-time interviews to ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg chatted with CBS' Mike Wallace in chambers; and Justice Stephen Breyer has logged almost as much time on camera as Lindsay Lohan—including a sit-down with Charlie Rose and a gig on Fox News Sunday. Roberts is participating in a four-hour documentary to be aired on PBS starting next week.
As Ms. Lithwick highlighted, however, what the justices choose not to say may be more important than what they do say. She posited that the justices’ reticence to discuss such issues as abortion, church-state separation, or Bush v. Gore, may reflect the justices' reluctance to further inflame public debate over these polarizing issues. Ms. Lithwick also suggested that the constitutional doctrines on which these areas of law are based require more explanation than can be given in a brief interview. (Justice Breyer recently wrote a whole book on constitutional interpretation).

Justice Scalia is the one justice who seldom steers clear of controversial issues. Ellen Rosen had an article in The New York Times on Sunday about Justice Scalia’s recent talk at Iona College. Justice Scalia told the audience that it is time to “get over” the Bush v. Gore decision and touted his originalist constitutional vision.

As Dahlia Lithwick pointed out in her article, however, Justice Scalia's candor may be because it's easier to reduce his constitutional views to sound bites:
As Justice Scalia continues to prove, the taut lines of his theory of “originalism” tend to be an easier sell than the blurriness of a “living Constitution.” Which may be why some of the justices sometimes talk the loudest when they say nothing at all.

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