Update on the Supreme Court

2016-09-14-1-ssv-lithwickDahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate Magazine, and in that capacity, writes the Supreme Court Dispatches and Jurisprudence columns. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Commentary, among other places. She won a 2013 National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act. She is currently working on a book about the four women justices of the United States Supreme Court.

Ms. Lithwick spoke at our Wednesday September 14, 2016 meeting. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience, and can be heard in the podcast below. The program was moderated by SSV past president Bob McGrath.


Ms. Lithwick has been twice awarded an Online Journalism Award for her legal commentary and was the first online journalist invited to be on the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.  Ms. Lithwick has testified before Congress about access to justice in the era of the Roberts Court.

She has appeared on CNN, ABC, The Colbert Report, and is a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Ms. Lithwick earned her BA from Yale University and her JD degree from Stanford University.

Program Summary

Speaking to an overflow audience, Dahlia Lithwick began her report on the Supreme Court observing, “…the Supreme Court and I are having nervous breakdowns—it’s been a very hard term to cover and it’s very hard to talk about what’s not happening—which is the not-vote and the not-confirmation on the invisible Merrick Garland.”

Here’s just a sample in more of her own words: “So usually I come here and I talk to you all about the term that just happened and the term that’s coming and all the incredibly riveting cases that are before us but this term and to some degree last term are to quote the show Seinfeld, “terms about nothing.” I mean they’re not interesting, but certainly there were some blockbusters at the very end of the last term, but really this term that’s coming up the court has only granted 29 cases. That’s a record low. They’ve turned away incredibly important cases because they know they’re going to be tied for the foreseeable future, and so this is an incredibly interesting story about nothingness and a term that will be nothingness and so I thought what I would do instead of talking only about the cases that came before and what’s coming up—I’ll do a little bit of that at the end—but I thought I would talk a little bit about life after Scalia, and is there life after Scalia. It seems there is, but not much. And certainly at the court, very little.

And so, as you probably know, the Supreme Court seat that was occupied by Antonin Scalia has been vacant since he died on February 13th of this year. That means his seat has now been empty for 212 days, and we also know that within hours of his passing we learned by way of Twitter that that seat was not going to be filled by this president, but that the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee would be very certain that the seat was filled by the next president and they’ve made good on that promise. There’s been no hearing and no vote and not even really a serious national conversation about whether there should be a hearing or a vote.

So when Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court on March 16th, what that means is that Judge Garland has been waiting 181 days for a hearing. Just by way of comparison for people who think this gridlock is usual, Elena Kagan only waited 87 days. Chief Justice John Roberts waited 62 days. The previous record for doing nothing while nothing happened was in fact held by Louis Brandeis. He had the longest wait between nomination and confirmation which was 125 days, but that was a hundred years ago and Judge Garland handily passed that record on July 21st. He is now the greatest waiter in Supreme Court history. Congratulations invisible Judge Garland.

Now in case anyone is wondering, and I hope you are not any more, but it being the week of Constitution Day, in case you’re wondering whether there’s some constitutional or legal mechanism to force a hearing against the will of the leadership of the Judiciary Committee, the answer is “No!”. There are a few very interesting lawsuits that have been filed by various renegade lawyers around the country who are really, really mad….”

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