The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Law

Keeping Faith with the Constitution

Pamela S. Karlan is the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. Her primary scholarly interests involve constitutional litigation, particularly with respect to voting rights and antidiscrimination law. She has published dozens of scholarly articles. She is also the co-author of three leading casebooks and a monograph on constitutional interpretation: Keeping Faith with the Constitution.

Students Discuss Constitutional Law with Yale Professor Akhil Reed Amar

The Rockefeller Center hosted a Student Coffee Hour with Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University and Law School. Amar has been awarded several honors from both the American Bar Association and the Federalist Society. He has also been favorably cited by Supreme Court justices in more than 30 cases, has regularly testified before Congress for both Republicans and Democrats, and has written for popular publications such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and Slate.

During the hour, many students were granted the opportunity to discuss their interests and questions about constitutional law with Professor Amar. Referring to several books he has published as well as his own pocket Constitution, Amar addressed students’ concerns with great detail.

Public Program: “Crime and the Constitution: Arrest, Trial, Incarceration”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States had a total correctional population of 6,741,400 people at the end of 2015. Delving deeper into the prison system’s high numbers, we see a disparity in the inmates’ predominant socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. In questioning the social problems such as crime, poverty, prejudice and political corruption, we must also look at the legal system that perpetuates these ideas and systematic issues. The historical and contemporary patterns of inequality are directly influenced by the Constitution and the court. This event will focus on the constitutionality of arrests, trials, and incarceration following crime.

Public Program: “Rights and Rites: The Supreme Court, Voting, and Marriage Equality”

As the highest court in our nation with the power of judicial review, the Supreme Court has always been pivotal in formulating both our nation’s identity and trajectory. Over the last several years, however, the Supreme Court has become an especially hot topic as it has made sweeping and highly publicized landmark decisions that have reverberated throughout the country and that promise to continue reverberating for many years to come. Yet the Supreme Court’s record has been curiously mixed between progressive and conservative outcomes, legalizing gay marriage for the LGBTQIA+ community in 2015 yet striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act for the African-American community just two years earlier. To some, this is seen as moments of social progress on the Supreme Court being punctured by retreats toward conservatism.

Elizabeth Wydra’s thoughts on Constitutional Accountability

Elizabeth Wydra is Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC)’s President. From 2008-2016, she served as CAC's Chief Counsel. A graduate of Claremont McKenna College and Yale Law School, Wydra joined CAC from private practice at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in San Francisco, where she was an attorney working with former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan in the firm’s Supreme Court/appellate practice. Wydra’s legal practice focuses on Supreme Court litigation and high-stakes cases in the federal courts of appeals. She has represented CAC as well as clients including congressional leaders, preeminent constitutional scholars and historians, state and local legislators and government organizations, and groups such as Justice at Stake, League of Women Voters, and AARP. Wydra appears frequently in print and on air as a legal expert for outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX, BBC, and NPR.

Elizabeth Wydra’s thoughts on Constitutional Accountability

Elizabeth Wydra is Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC)’s President. From 2008-2016, she served as CAC's Chief Counsel. A graduate of Claremont McKenna College and Yale Law School, Wydra joined CAC from private practice at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in San Francisco, where she was an attorney working with former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan in the firm’s Supreme Court/appellate practice. Wydra’s legal practice focuses on Supreme Court litigation and high-stakes cases in the federal courts of appeals. She has represented CAC as well as clients including congressional leaders, preeminent constitutional scholars and historians, state and local legislators and government organizations, and groups such as Justice at Stake, League of Women Voters, and AARP. Wydra appears frequently in print and on air as a legal expert for outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX, BBC, and NPR.

Constitution Day with Elizabeth Wydra

It is no secret that the 2016 presidential election cycle has been littered with tension, controversy, and surprises — not the least of which was the sudden passing of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. With this, a seat that once belonged to arguably the most conservative Supreme Court Justice in recent memory has opened up, heating up an already heated election cycle. With two current Justices in their 80’s, and a third trailing close behind, the president who wins the 2016 election may have an unparalleled opportunity to remake the Supreme Court in their image. Considering the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review, such an event would most certainly reverberate throughout the country, under not only the next president but also under the many presidents to come.

Celebrating Law Day at Dartmouth: Alumni Attorneys Discuss Capital Punishment

Today there seems to be no shortage of divisive issues that polarize the American people and the parties that represent them, and one such issue is capital punishment. The death penalty has existed in the United States since colonial times, but opposition to it has been mounting over the centuries, with polls showing that opposition to the practice has increased by 75% in just the last 17 years. This is a multi-faceted issue, and there are many arguments that those who discuss capital punishment — whether they support or oppose it — must contend with, including moral relativism, the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Eight Amendment, and the complexities of race, class, and gender and how they intersect with crime rates and sentencing. In this way, the discussion of capital punishment covers a wide range of topics, including philosophy, ethics, and law, and with the mounting opposition to capital punishment and the rising concerns regarding its constitutionality and even morality, it is a discussion that needs to be had.

Celebrating Law Day at Dartmouth with Stephen Bright

While the Civil Rights Movement led to much legislative advancement toward racial equality, the criminal courts in the U.S. judicial system remained largely unaffected. Although many consider legislation to represent one of the main drivers of racial oppression, criminal courts are often overlooked as a source of inequality. As court outcomes are shaped by many discretionary factors like the competence of a defendant’s lawyer, it may be the case that courts have played a role in the oppression of people of color.

As the President and Senior Counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, Stephen B. Bright made the argument that criminal courts are a source of racial oppression in his lecture titled “Rigged: When Race and Poverty Determine Outcomes in Death Penalty and Other Criminal Cases.” He discussed how the criminal courts have represented a primary driver of racial injustice throughout U.S. history, through institutions such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration of minorities. He spoke about how race and poverty are often dominant factors in the outcomes of criminal cases, and how discretionary discretions in cases are often influenced by race.

Yale Professor Daniel Markovits on Economic Equality and Inequality

In his pubic lecture titled “Meritocracy and Its Discontents,” Markovits sets out to discuss the interrelationship of meritocracy and aristocracy. As Markovits argued, both aristocracy and meritocracy foster the same ideological conceit that is an unjust allocation of advantage. Markovits’ argument constituted three points: (1) modern meritocracy has transformed the character of economic inequality; (2) the hyper-meritocracy that has developed in the United States today benefits no one; and (3) merit itself has become a sham.

During a lunch with Dartmouth students on the day of his lecture, Markovits started by describing the prevalence of economic equality in the U.S.

“Things I care about most at the moment include economic equality and inequality,” said Markovits. “Inequality in the market has increased dramatically since 1970 and may begin to happen elsewhere in the world. My intent is to describe the situation we find ourselves in, show why its unsuited to being addressed by traditional arguments about redistribution, and articulate new arguments in the face of changing circumstances.”

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