Federal Courts and Nominations

Supreme Court, constitution considered at Pittsburgh Netroots


The US Supreme Court and the constitution were the focus of discussion Friday afternoon at the Netroots Nation [advocacy group] progressives conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Blogger Christy Hardin Smith [FireDogLake archive] began the session by giving her opinion that the Supreme Court is something Americans should pay more attention to, because those decisions affect all of our lives in ways that we might not appreciate until we get pulled into a court case.

In discussing the Court’s interpretation of statutory law, the four panelists and moderator made frequent reference to the Court’s controversial 2007 ruling inLedbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. [JURIST report], which determined the statutory limitations period for pay discrimination lawsuits, meaning that Ledbetter was unable to recover from her employer. Hardin Smith said that Ledbetter had been “working while female” and Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) [official website] expressed frustration at the ruling, saying that the Court “went against the plain meaning of the text.” Nadler co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 [S 181 materials; JURIST report], which effectively overturned the Court’s ruling when US President Barack Obama [official website] signed it into law one week after taking office in January. Nadler stated that he intends to focus on “making a [legislative] record that protects decent legislation” from being misinterpreted.

The panelists spent a significant portion of the session discussing judge Sonya Sotomayor [White House profile], recently sworn in [JURIST report] as the 111th justice of the US Supreme Court. Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron [AFJ profile] speculated, “I think we will see from her what we saw from Thurgood Marshall…and the dialogue among the justices will change.”

Moving to a broader exploration of the composition of the Court, Nadler expressed concerns that the Court in general is trending toward a return to the Lochner [SSRN article] era in its approach to employee rights and wages. Later, responding to a question about how the structure of the legal profession and its hiring practices may influence the Court, he noted,

“The moment you hit the federal court, it’s corporate law…You’re not going to the federal bench if you weren’t in a white shoe firm, and that’s gotta be changed too.” [sic]

The conversation shifted to a discussion of this Court’s emphasis on the original intent [WSJ report] of the Constitution’s framers, leading Nadler to quip, “the framers probably had no original intent,” and so would be of little help in interpreting “glittering phrases [such as] Due Process.” Speaking on originalism, Aron took a different approach, stating,

“Most of us recognize that the founders of that Constitution were a very small, select group of elite individuals…all of them white men, if I’m not mistaken.”

She added, “The debate between originalism and evolving notions of decency are certainly the underpinnings of how conservatives talk about [these issues].”

The panel discussion concluded with questions from the audience, with one attendee noting the importance of civics education in America. Constitutional Accountability Center Founder & President Doug Kendall [CAC profile] responded by returning to the theme of the framers, commenting,

“How we teach the Reconstruction Amendments…the heart and soul of the progressive Constitution…the framers of those amendments should be on the levels of Hamilton and Madison.”

Nadler noted, “Obviously they should teach civics, but they should teach reality too…courts have played a major role in government…not just as umpires.”


More from Federal Courts and Nominations

Federal Courts and Nominations
January 17, 2024

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Sign-On Letter Prioritizing Diverse Judges

Dear Senator, On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the...
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 31, 2023

Liberal justices earn praise for ‘independence’ on Supreme Court, but Thomas truly stands alone, expert says

Fox News
Some democrats compare Justice Clarence Thomas to ‘Uncle Tom’ and house slave in ‘Django Unchained’
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, By Brianna Herlihy
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 7, 2023

In Her First Term, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘Came to Play’

The New York Times
From her first week on the Supreme Court bench in October to the final day...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, by Adam Liptak
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 8, 2023

The Supreme Court’s continuing march to the right

Major legal rulings that dismantled the use of race in college admissions, undermined protections for...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, by Tierney Sneed
Federal Courts and Nominations
June 25, 2023

Federal judge defends Clarence Thomas in new book, rejects ‘pot shots’ at Supreme Court

A federal appeals court judge previously on short lists for the Supreme Court is taking the rare...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra
Federal Courts and Nominations
May 1, 2023

Supreme Court, done with arguments, turns to decisions

Roll Call
The justices have released opinions at a slow rate this term, and many of the...
By: Brianne J. Gorod, By Michael Macagnone