The School of Law hosted “A Debate on the Future of the Supreme Court,” a panel discussion on the recent changes in Washington, on Oct. 11.
Moderated by CBS 4 anchor Elliot Rodriguez, the panelist members included Wendy Long, legal counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, Ralph Neas, president and CEO of the liberal People for the American Way, Karen Pearl, interim president of the liberal Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Edward Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.
President Donna E. Shalala opened the event with remarks about the importance of the debate.
“The fundamental outlines of our lives are impacted by these men and women,” Shalala said, referring to the nine Supreme Court justices.
The debate came amid the nomination of Harriet Miers by President George W. Bush to replace Sandra Day O’Connor as well as the recent confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice.
“The timing of this program is absolutely right,” said Joanne Harvest Koren, director of academic achievement for the School of Law.
Of the several points of contention brought up, the subject of privacy was one that appeared thoughout the event, mainly focusing on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court which legalized abortion.
Long believes that Roe was an act of judicial activism that will soon be overturned but not with the nomination of Miers, as many pro-choice advocates assert.
“The courts have a very limited role in the Constitution,” Long said.
Because of that, she stated, issues such as abortion should be decided by the people in the legislative process, not the courts.
Disputing Long and Whelan, along with Neas, was Pearl, whose organization is pro-choice.
Pearl also mentioned that privacy and abortion rights have been continually restricted over the past 30 years by state courts and legislatures. Furthermore, with the nominated Miers to replace O’Connor, Pearl fears Roe will be overturned.
To be sure where Miers stands on such issues, Pearl and Neas support rigorous interrogation by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“She is very much a stealth candidate,” Pearl said. “I think you need to go very far [in questioning her].”
Long disagreed, saying that views on personal and religious issues do not matter; the latter of which has stirred a response from some Democratic senators, since Miers is a devout Christian.
“What matters is your integrity as a judge,” Long said. “You must have a demonstrated knowledge and facility [with the law].”
After the debate, law students such as Ashley Bruce felt the event went well but left something to be desired.
“It seemed too much like Crossfire when they could have gone more into the issues,” she said.
Pearl, the only member who is not a lawyer, defended the style of the panel.
“It wasn’t just a debate about law, it was a debate about the role of the Supreme Court [in society],” she said.
“This is the first time in a long time we’ve had a Supreme Court justice confirmed,” Nancy Mensch, law student, said. “It’s always good to hear two points of view in one place.”
The event, first planned last spring, was co-sponsored by People For the American Way, the Miami chapter of the Federalist Society and the School of Law.
Greg Linch can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.