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The Nation (15 found)

Is the Supreme Court’s Role Overstated?

June 3, 2016  | 

In the world of American law, the Supreme Court is the Valhalla of the professional imagination. Majestic, forbidding, grander and higher than all other forums, it’s a sacred terminus for lawyers everywhere. None but the worthy can enter the prestigious (and clubby) world of the Supreme Court bar, whose members press their claims in hopes …

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What’s the Point of a Supreme Court Dissent?

January 21, 2016  | 

What is the purpose of dissent in the Supreme Court? To cry foul, to persuade, to sensationalize, to fight? A dissenting opinion is not law and serves no official function; at times, it can seem like petty ankle-biting. What, then, is the point? The Court’s recent decision striking down state laws that banned gay marriage …

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Fortune’s Son

February 4, 2015  | 

Here lies Nelson Rockefeller: billionaire, presidential contender, forty-first vice president of the United States, forty-ninth governor of New York; builder, Pollyanna, glad-hander, king of the blue-ribbon commission; art collector, philanderer, Republican, liberal. The biggest personality in national politics between Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, Rockefeller was as overwhelming and unexpected as a typhoon on a …

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Roberts’s Rules of Order

July 8, 2013  | 

In his impeccable Senate confirmation performance in 2005, John Roberts provided for himself a sort of mission statement. As chief justice, he pledged to be restrained, modest, and deferential toward precedents and legislatures; he would seek consensus and not decide more than was necessary to resolve a case. Modesty, he testified, “means an appreciation that …

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Off Key

January 21, 2013  | 

Glenn Gould, the virtuoso pianist and great interpreter of Bach, once described the way recordings of music “insinuate themselves into our judgments, and into our lives,” thereby giving recording artists “an awesome power that was simply not available to any earlier generation.” Listen to a favorite record often enough, and it becomes authoritative; a different …

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Raw Judicial Power

October 4, 2012  | 

William Rehnquist was not an odds-on favorite for a seat on the Supreme Court. The man who put him there, Richard Nixon, was un-impressed after their first meeting, asking an aide in July 1971: “Who the hell is that clown?” At the time, Rehnquist was a Justice Department lawyer known for wear-ing loud psychedelic neckties …

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From Brown to Lawrence

April 16, 2012  | 

In 1890 Louisiana passed a law requiring “equal but separate” train carriages for white and black passengers. The penalty for refusing to comply was a $25 fine or up to twenty days’ imprisonment. An “octoroon” (one-eighth black) named Homer Plessy sought to challenge the law: he entered a white carriage, and after refusing to leave …

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Crime and Punishment

January 30, 2012  | 

William Stuntz, who died in March at 52 after a long struggle with cancer, was a law professor who devoted his career to ending the scourge of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Widely acknowledged as the leading criminal procedure scholar of his era, Stuntz defied easy labeling. He was a conservative and an …

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Shostakovich’s Ambivalence

May 9, 2011  | 

Dmitri Shostakovich was a coward. Or at least the great Soviet composer admitted as much to friends. The resulting shame reverberates through his music, sounding notes of terror, humiliation and despair. When in 1948 Communist Party apparatchiks denounced his compositions as “formalist” and inaccessible to the common worker, he made a public confession, saying his …

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Without Artifice: On William Brennan

December 6, 2010  | 

William Brennan, one of the great Supreme Court justices of the twentieth century, did not attract attention. A 1966 cover story on the Warren Court in the New York Times Magazine failed to mention him. He sat several rows behind President Johnson at Martin Luther King’s funeral, but his presence—unlike that of several of his …

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A Wedge Against Tyranny

August 16, 2010  | 

The uproar over Franklin Roosevelt’s Court-packing scheme of 1937 highlighted two perennial tensions in our public life: ends versus means and law versus politics. Roosevelt sought to curb an activist Supreme Court that had brazenly overturned nearly every progressive law that came its way. The National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agriculture Adjustment Act, pension laws, …

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In With Both Feet

June 14, 2010  | 

When the great attorney Louis Brandeis wrote a legal brief in a constitutional case, it was short on legal arguments and packed with so many facts that it required a sturdy binding. In 1908 the brief he submitted to the Supreme Court in Muller v. Oregon—he successfully defended that state’s ten-hour workday for women laborers against …

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 Scalia v. The World: On Antonin Scalia

February 22, 2010  | 

The dean of the modern conservative legal movement, Justice Antonin Scalia, is neither an intellectual nor a primitive. He is both. Scalia has fused the cerebral and the atavistic strains of conservatism in a manner that leaves one wondering if they were ever distinct at all. For decades Scalia has beguiled conservative law students with …

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They Fought the Law: Fred Strebeigh’s Equal

April 8, 2009  | 

An outstanding history of women’s struggle for equality through the courts and in the legal profession. A colleague of mine recently argued an important civil rights case before the Supreme Court. In the hectic days before she left for Washington, as she reread every relevant decision and practiced clearing her throat, her attention was diverted …

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Straight Away

March 1, 2009  | 

Don’t ask, don’t tell is on its way out, and not a moment too soon. One of the ugliest moments of the 2008 presidential campaign involved a room full of people booing a gay general. During the Republican CNN/YouTube debate in November 2007, retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr asked a question by video. In a …

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