BYU Law’s annual Supreme Court Review was held on September 16, 2016. Students and professionals had the opportunity to hear legal scholars discuss some of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions from the previous term.
Lori Ringhand, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Georgia School of Law gave the keynote address, “A Confirmation Crisis?” Professor Ringhand examined whether there is a current and potential crisis brewing with upcoming U.S. Supreme Court nominations with the accompanying Senate hearings.
“Politics is not new to the way the U.S. Senate handles Supreme Court nominations,” Dean Ringhand said. “So if there is something we are going to call a crisis about what’s going on with the Garland nomination, it’s not that the U.S. Senate has suddenly introduced politics. Politics has always played a part in how the U.S. Senate has conducted itself.”
What may be considered a crisis, according to Dean Ringhand, is the lack of a Senate hearing. “If there is a crisis with the Merrick Garland nomination, it lies in the fact that we are not able to have this constitutional moment, this moment where we come together: we debate, we discuss, we talk about what we want and think and believe about our Constitution,” she said.
While calling Senate hearings inevitably “ugly,” Dean Ringhand pointed out that the hearings play two important roles. The first is that hearings make the selection of a Supreme Court nominee more democratic and therefore the hearings become more “substantively valuable.”
The second benefit of the hearings is that they can validate previously contested constitutional choices. According to Dean Ringhand, the Senate hearing “is a form, a method in which we can have the type of democratic validation of what used to be controversial decisions.” As nominees unhesitatingly answer questions about previously controversial decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, they in effect, validate and demonstrate the constitutional understanding of the present time.
Dean Ringhand concluded her remarks by quoting legal scholar Jeremy Walter, who said that “The U.S. Constitution is an invitation to argue.” To that she added, “I hope that the history I’ve outlined… inspires you at least a bit to think about the confirmation process as a really good place to have that argument.”
Following Dean Ringhand’s remarks, a panel discussion on divided decisions of the 2015 term was presented with BYU Law professors John Fee, Fred Gedicks, Carolina Nunez, and Michalyn Steele. They discussed Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, United States v. Texas, and Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Professor Stephanie Bair, Associate Dean David Moore, and Professors Aaron Nielson and Lynn Wardle presented as a panel on significant Opinions of the 2015 Terms. They discussed Halo v. Pulse and Styrker v. Zimmer, OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, Utah v. Strieff, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.