Moravian speaker offers
This year Moravian College’s Cohen Arts and Lecture speaker, Jeffrey Toobin, was both informative and entertaining. Toobin is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
In the course of his legal career, Toobin served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. In 1993 he gave up practicing law and took up journalism. He is now a legal analyst for CNN and staff writer at The New Yorker. He is also the bestselling author of seven books, the most recent of which is “American Heiress,” about Patty Hearst.
The program began with welcoming remarks by Robert J. Schoenen, vice chair of Moravian’s Board of Trustees. Dr. Jamie Paxton, associate professor and chairman of the History Department, introduced the speaker.
Taking the podium, Toobin expressed his envy of those who live in swing states, such as Pennsylvania, “where there are all those great TV commercials, whereas New York is so dull.”
Turning to his topic, the Supreme Court, Toobin told the audience that Justice Souter, now retired, is his favorite Supreme Court Justice “because he was so weird.” He had no computer, no cell phone, no answering machine, but “he had a great perspective on what it is to be a justice.”
With the death of Justice Scalia, the court now has four liberal and four conservative justices, and, as Toobin pointed out, it reflects the partisan divisions so pronounced today. He said that the election and subsequent approval of a ninth justice will determine the direction the court takes. Three justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, age 83; Justice Kennedy, age 80; and, Justice Breyer, age 78, might be expected to retire before long.
Citing decisions by the court over the years, Toobin illustrated how partisan it can be. During the mid and late 1960s, there was a substantial liberal majority on the court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. During his tenure, the so-called Warren Court expanded Civil Rights, outlawing segregation in public schools. This was followed by passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. During George W. Bush’s administration, the court took a conservative turn with the appointment of justices Roberts and Alito. They were instrumental in striking down part of the Voting Rights Act and the McCain Feingold Campaign Finance Law.
Sometimes a justice will prove to be less partisan than anticipated. For example, when Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the court, she proved to be a moderate, and not a conservative. Writing the majority opinion for the court in 2003, she came down in favor of affirmative action in college admissions decisions. More recently, conservative Justice John Roberts sided with the Democrats in affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Following his presentation, Toobin took questions from the audience. When asked if he thinks there will be any decision on gun control in the next few years, he replied that there might be more regulation but no outright bans. Asked if there should be a mandatory retirement age for justices, he replied in the affirmative. However, he said that it would never happen because it would involve amending the Constitution, and that is “very tough.”
When Toobin was asked if he was surprised by the Republican refusal to consider the president’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court, he replied that it was “brazen” coming as it did one hour after Scalia’s death when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that there would be no vote. For all that, Toobin believes that Garland will eventually be approved.