The U.S. Supreme Court

This is a 10-week seminar, starting on September 27th, 2017.

Moderator:                Jay Russell
Day and Time:         Wednesday 2:00-4:00PM
Location:                   Smith College, Dewey Hall Common, Northampton
(parking permit required; provided to participants by moderator)


The purpose of this seminar is to explore some notable opinions (including concurring and dissenting opinions), as well as the interesting lives, of some of the Justices who have served since 1790.

From Marbury v. Madison in 1803 through Citizens United in 2010 and Obergfell (legalizing same-sex marriage) in 2015, the Supreme Court has rendered many landmark decisions. Often, more interesting than the decisions themselves are the opinions (including concurring and dissenting opinions) penned by the Justices. Opinions often reflect the attitudes of the times (and the evolution of law and society over time), as the Justices interpret and apply the Constitution to issues such as the scope of individual rights and the extent of Congressional and Presidential power.

Who were (and are) the men, and since 1981 the women, who have served on the Court? Many had interesting lives and distinguished careers prior to becoming Justices. Some were public interest attorneys (Brandeis, Thurgood Marshall and Ginsburg), some (Frankfurter and Fortas) were presidential advisors or confidants, and still others served in government or held elective office (such as Taft and Charles Evans Hughes).

Seminar members may choose to focus, for example, on the notable opinions of a particular Justice (e.g., John Marshall Harlan, known as the “Great Dissenter”), the generally considered most notorious and reviled opinions (such as Dred Scott and Korematsu) or opinions on issues like Presidential power, abortion, and voting rights. Participants may also choose to explore a Justice’s biography (including his or her important opinions), to compare Justices (e.g., Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas or the four women Justices) or to examine rejected nominees and the worst Justices.

Role of participants:
Each member of the seminar will give a 25-40 minute presentation on a topic within the scope of the seminar and will have the opportunity to participate in the question and discussion periods following each presentation.

Participants will be encouraged to read a general history of the Supreme Court, such as A History of the Supreme Court (1995) by Bernard Schwartz or A People’s History of the Supreme Court (2006) by Peter Irons. The moderator will provide additional resources and a bibliography to seminar members.

About the Moderator(s):
Jay Russell is a retired attorney. As an LIR member since 2013, Jay has taken seminars focusing on history or politics and, since the fall of 2015, he has co-moderated seminars on presidential power and the 2016 primary and general elections.

Maximum number of participants: 18

Emeritus/a accepted: yes, up to 2