<b>UNCERTAIN JUSTICE:</b>  Constitutional scholar and Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe hopes to bust stereotypes about the Sup­remes in his new book.

Matt Teuten - Novus Select

UNCERTAIN JUSTICE: Constitutional scholar and Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe hopes to bust stereotypes about the Sup­remes in his new book.

Legal Expert Calls for Supreme Court Reform

Laurence Tribe Proposes Limited Terms and Sees Threats to Women’s Rights

Thursday, June 26, 2014
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JUSTICES ON TV: Laurence Tribe, probably the nation’s top authority on the U.S. Supreme Court, favors television coverage of the court and limited terms.

“It’s really wrong,” he told me in a phone interview, that only a lucky few ​— ​such as lawyers, the press, and a limited number of the public ​— ​can hear oral arguments on crucial issues that affect people’s lives in so many ways.

But justices have long opposed TV coverage, fearing among other things that some on the court would be “grandstanding.” They’re already grandstanding, said Tribe, who will be speaking at the New Vic on Friday, June 27, at 5 p.m., sponsored by Antioch University, the County Bar Association, and the Legal Aid Foundation. It’s free.

Barney Brantingham

Justices want to preserve their anonymity in public, but that’s not a good enough reason to ban TV, he said.

But the Supreme Court makes its own rules. Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor and author of a new book, Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution, which he wrote with Joshua Matz, also favors limited terms for justices instead of the present lifetime appointments.

He proposed nonrenewable 18-year terms, staggered so that a president would have two appointments. Court critics have long favored limited terms, in part to assure new blood on the bench. But, Tribe pointed out, such a change would require a constitutional amendment, a very high hurdle and one not easily leaped. The Founding Fathers wrote in the lifetime-appointment provision aimed at preserving their independence and at a time when people didn’t live so long, he said.

Tribe, a close observer of the court for 45 years who had President Obama as a student, was not surprised, as were many, when Chief Justice John Roberts provided the fifth vote to approve Obama’s health plan. Roberts was also Tribe’s student.

Asked about the future of the endangered Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, he said it is being endangered by being chipped away at in the lower court level, and clinics are closing. One issue due to be decided by the court this session deals with buffer zones around clinics, how close anti-abortion activists can approach clients. The country is divided on abortion, Tribe said, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see Roe v. Wade “cut back.”

Tribe disputes that there are an increasing number of 5-4 votes on key issues. Going back over the history of the court, you’d see that this is nothing new, he said. He called the public idea that this is going on is “just so much talk” and “an illusion.”

Currently, however, there’s a public perception that conservative justices, including the chief justice, have won most of the 5-4 battles. But Tribe, a liberal, disputes that the court is moving to the “right.” Terms like left and right are not helpful in describing trends on the court, he said. He calls it “silly talk.”

If decisions were unanimous, “that’s when we should be getting suspicious,” he said.

“The reason I wrote the book is so that we could get a less-stereotyped” understanding of the court, he said.

Asked if two justices were to retire during Obama’s term, giving him new appointments, who he would expect to be named, Tribe said it’s unlikely that the president could get anyone approved in the Senate before he leaves office.

There is speculation that two liberal-moderate justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, might retire before Obama leaves office after the 2016 election. If Tribe is right ​— ​and who’d bet against him? ​— ​it would come as a shock to those who look forward to Obama’s appointment of two liberal-trending justices, rather than wait to see who the next president would name, subject to Senate okay, of course.

Ironically, Tribe himself at one time was being mentioned for appointment by President Clinton. Clinton reportedly also seized upon the idea of naming his wife, Hillary. He supposedly found it “sexy.”

But after President Reagan’s choice for the court, Robert Bork, was rejected by the Senate, Republicans howled that he had been unfairly attacked, giving rise to the phrase “Borked.” Bork was criticized as a right-wing extremist. Tribe testified against him powerfully, and with it went any chance to join the court.

Hillary would have been too controversial in the face of GOP reaction to Bork’s rejection. The vacant seat then went to Anthony Kennedy, who still sits on the court, often a swing vote in close decisions.


Laurence Tribe discusses the Supreme Court’s influence on constitutional law in an Antioch Conversation at the New Vic on Friday, June 27 (33 W. Victoria St., 5pm, free, RSVP to


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Tribe's expertise failed him when he judged Barack Obama to be presidential material. His fulsome praise of Obama as a law student is curious, indeed.

dewdly (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2014 at 11:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think it's curious Dewedly ever learned to read, given it's a conspiracy by the educated elite.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2014 at 11:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)


Insulting me won't change the fact that Obama is an embarassment to those who created and promoted him.

dewdly (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2014 at 8:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The problem is not the system, the problem is the American people. They continue to vote for politicians who disregard our Constitutional freedoms, and as long as this is the case, amending the system itself won't do a bit of good as long as the voters undermine themselves.

America took freedom for granted, got caught up in their partisan squabbles, and is committing suicide in the process.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 26, 2014 at 8:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Bill Clausen, I strongly agree with your view based on watching from the Front seat of our Nations Capital. Americans are PED slaves and fickle to the core, we vote the way to we communicate based on whatever tickles our fancy at that time.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 5:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

KV , perhaps Dewd preferred McCain/Palin in 08. I know Sarah can't see Iran from Wassilla, but they were quite a pair with shaky credentials on dealing with the most urgent issues of that period. McCain himself declared economic ignorance , while employing Phil Gramm as his chief economic advisor. The same Phil Gramm who championed dereg of banking , and the repeal of Glass-Steagall precipitating the great Bush recession.
Or perhaps Dewd chose Romney in the last cycle. The same Romney that made saber rattling and threats to Iran a major part of his platform . Yeah,we would be in much better shape had those candidates prevailed....... not.

geeber (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 6:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

In the face of the increasingly shrill criticisms of our President I decided to refresh my recollection of our Presidents over the past 50 years, starting with Lyndon Johnson. All exceptional men, none of them close to perfect. Nixon, Ford, Carter? No great Presidents there. Only partisans really believe either Bush was a better President than Obama. Clinton, great politician, but a great President? He was impeached! Around here and in the Republican Party Reagan is held in high regard, but the man was a professional actor. Is that really the most appropriate professional experience for President of the United States. Yes Obama is flawed and not a perfect President, just like his predessors. If all of those men were running to be the next President, I would vote for Obama, I am almost certain he had the best education and the highest IQ.

sbreader (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 8:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think all elected/appointed officials should have a mandatory retirement age. Age 75-78 is good enough, granted some rare few function well into their 90's, it is not the norm.

The original idea at the founding was to serve and then get on your horse and go home, Lifer public servants has created a disservice to the idea of government.

We would be better served with a global age limit for any office. Maybe those old farts in the Senate would not be so inclined to start Wars.

Lifer public servants is partially responsible for the gridlock we see today.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 9:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The CA supreme court needs to be reformed much more than SCOTUS does. The decisions the CA supreme court hands down are positively nuts!!!

ID theft is now legal in CA, but only if you're an illegal immigrant.

Botany (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 9:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Obama has repeatedly broken the law. He apparently thinks he was elected King. Hopefully, the recent decision by a UNANIMOUS Supreme Court regarding his NLRB appointments is the beginning of a trend. He may have the highest IQ of recent presidents and I voted for him (the first time, before his evil twin appeared), but he clearly has no regard for the Constitution of due process.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

All Presidents have made recess appointments, but it only gets to the Supreme Court with this President?

Bush signed executive orders for the Medicare Part D, but when Obama does the same for the AHA, then it is a problem?

Cheney was all for extending the powers of the President, but Obama who has made fewer executive orders than all other Presidents (except for one), is now being sued?

Repeatedly broken the law? I will believe that when I see them stacked up against other Presidents. At that point, I can guarantee that those false charges will go away.

There were charges that this President expanded government, but he has done so less than most Presidents, and far less than Bush II.

There needs to be some debunking and comparisons. Otherwise, people will continue to get away with these preposterous charges, and the sheeple will just believe whatever they are told.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 11:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"For six of the justices on the Supreme Court, this case was about business as usual. In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer that drew a sharp dissent from Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice Roberts and Samuel Alito, the majority held that past practice meant that presidents could fill vacancies that arise while the Senate is in session by appointing officials while it is “in recess,” but that the Senate generally gets to decide what “in recess means.”"

"The decision and concurrence offer a sweeping, and sometimes conflicting, lesson in the history of recess appointments and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitutional balance of power between the President and the legislative branch. Recess appointments were rare before the Civil War and really only began to accelerate after World War II, at the same time as the federal government vastly expanded in size and power. An 1863 law explicitly outlawed the payment of appointees to positions that became vacant while the Senate was in session, but a 1940 law expanded the period for vacancies to 30 days before a session ended, Breyer noted. Since then, presidents had used the power thousands of times, seemingly without regard to when vacancies arose."

tabatha (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at noon (Suggest removal)

I would vote for Obama, I am almost certain he had the best education and the highest IQ.

sbreader (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.

Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. How can Obama top that?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 27, 2014 at 6:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And Clinton had the power of persuasion. Whether it was getting the conservatives to play ball or getting women to have sex with him, he had what it takes. It's clear that Obama is deficient in that respect. (at least in terms of bipartisanship)

Botany (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2014 at 12:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Are you saying that Obama can't coerce babes into bed like Clinton? That sound racist to me Botany.
At least Tabatha is personally guaranteeing Obama's integrity; we can now stop debating his fabulous presidency...

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 30, 2014 at 4:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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