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

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

17W Public Program
17W Public Program

Pam Karlan, the Kenneth and Hale Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and Co-Director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. Photo by Hung Nguyen.

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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.

This hot topic was made even hotter by the sudden passing of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, thus opening a seat that once belonged to perhaps the most conservative Supreme Court Justice in recent memory. Consequently, the Supreme Court was a major concern in the 2016 presidential, and the court has continued to weigh on our newsfeeds and on our minds under President Donald Trump, adding further tension to his already turbulent first month in office. With one open seat, two current Justices in their 80’s, and a third trailing close behind, the Supreme Court has the potential to be completely remade in the next four years — and, with it, American policy — in ways that will echo far beyond the current administration.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center welcomed Pam Karlan, the Kenneth and Hale Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and Co-Director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School, for an engaging talk on the Supreme Court and its impact on voting rights and marriage equality. Professor Karlan spoke on what some view as the Supreme Court’s recent retreat from progressivism and identified potential explanations and offered encouraging suggestions about moving forward on issues of social justice. She invited the audience to consider how we should think about constitutional rights and how we should view LGBT victories at the Supreme Court in light of the Court’s more conservative decisions. Karlan contemplated whether there exist the seeds of new arguments for justice in the current political and legal climate.

This William H. Timbers ’37 lecture entitled “Rights and Rites: The Supreme Court, Voting, and Marriage Equality” by Professor Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School took place on Monday, February 6, at 5:00 p.m. in Rockefeller 003.

Submitted by Nicole Simineri ’17, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Public Programs

The views and opinions expressed and any materials presented during a public program are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.

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