By: Caiti Anderson & Kelsey Dolin
William & Mary Law School had the pleasure of hosting Linda Greenhouse on September 22. Ms. Greenhouse is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times who has covered the Supreme Court for thirty years.
She is also a Senior Research Scholar in Law, Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence, and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, where she teaches various courses on the Supreme Court. Her books include Becoming Justice Blackmun, Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction and The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right (written with Michael J. Graetz).
Ms. Greenhouse spent the hour discussing her August 18 New York Times opinion article, “The Courts Begin to Call Out Lawmakers.” The article generated a lot of buzz as it delved into courts’ recent willingness to question the actions of legislatures in highly polarized areas, including the attempts of the Texas legislature to scale back access to abortion and recent voter ID cases in North Carolina and Texas. In the North Carolina case, the three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit questioned why the state legislature sought to prevent fraud by implementing a system of voter ID – where the state failed to identify a single person who had ever been charged with committing in-person voting fraud within the state – rather than implementing a more stringent absentee voting regime, where there was, in fact, evidence of voter fraud. According to Ms. Greenhouse, “despite knowing that citizens who lacked the required identification were disproportionately [minorities], while those who voted by absentee ballot were disproportionately white, the legislators rejected amendments that would have extended identification requirements to absentee voting.” The Fourth Circuit pointed to a discriminatory purpose behind the law and struck it down.
In the discussion, Ms. Greenhouse noted the remarkable nature of this opinion. Courts are often hesitant to ascertain legislative purpose, even if the conditions surrounding the legislation are suspicious in large part because of the difficulties of assigning motive to multi-member bodies. The dramatic shift in 2016 represents something else entirely. As stated in her article, “Legislators, perhaps assuming they had friends in high judicial places, had taken bold, even flagrant steps to suppress the black vote and restrict women’s access to abortion. Judges responded, and even though their actions in some cases spoke more loudly than their words, these decisions mark a departure and make a difference.” Ms. Greenhouse ended her discussion by wondering whether this trend may continue in the future, especially when there is a ninth member on the Supreme Court.