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What the Supreme Court is saying on its summer vacation

August 27, 2013 by NCC Staff


As the summer time winds down and the Supreme Court gets ready to prepare for the first Monday in October, here’s a look at what some of the Justices have said at recent public appearances.

350px-Supreme_Court_US_2010We were able find interviews or quotes with five of the nine Justices, who appeared at events since June or gave newspaper interviews.

Some comments, like those from Antonin Scalia, have received a lot of publicity, as have comments from Ruth Bader Ginsburg about her possible retirement.

And there was an insightful article from Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic about audio he obtained, with the Court’s permission, of Anthony Kennedy’s appearance at the Chautauqua Institution in July.

Here’s a quick look at what the Justices have been saying.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ginsburg has given three recent interviews and she’s also due for a public appearance on September 6 at the National Constitution Center.

In a talk with the New York Times, Ginsburg made a public confession: She’s given up water skiing.

“I don’t water-ski anymore,” Justice Ginsburg said. “I haven’t gone horseback riding in four years. I haven’t ruled that out entirely. But water-skiing, those days are over.”

She also doesn’t plan to give up serving on the Court, even though she’ll turn 81 during its next term.

And Ginsburg took the bench’s conservatives to task for some recent rulings.

“If it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history,” she said.

Antonin Scalia

It’s been a typical summer for Scalia, as he’s made several public speeches echoing his remarks of recent summers.

One of Scalia’s stock lines is about the debate over the “living Constitution” versus the “Originalist” school that he belongs to.

“It’s not a living document, it’s a dead document,” Scalia said in a Montana appearance. “Oh, don’t put it that way. It’s an enduring document. It’s a meaningless document if its meaning changes according to whatever the Supreme Court thinks.”

Scalia also sent a zinger toward the people who believe the Court should settle the controversy over legalized same-sex marriage.

“It’s not up to the courts to invent new minorities that get special protections that are not subject to the usual rule that you have to get the majority to agree with it,” Scalia said.

Anthony Kennedy

Cohen’s feature on Justice Kennedy is fascinating because he was able to obtain audio of Kennedy’s speech in upstate New York, even though people weren’t allowed to record audio and video.

The Court gave Cohen permission to quote from the audio, which shows that Kennedy was almost conducting a law school class during his speech.

After Kennedy led the audience through an exercise about the First Amendment, he answered a question about cameras in the courtroom.

“From an institutional standpoint know that my colleagues and I are not immune from the instinct to grab a headline and I don't want to think that my colleague asked a question for the benefit of the press. I don't want to introduce that insidious dynamic between myself and my colleagues,” he said about the possibility of courtroom video.

Sonia Sotomayor

Sotomayor spoke to a different type of audience at Fordham University in July: a group of 90 elementary school students.

“My dream is that each of you finds your dream and that it comes true,” Sotomayor told the children. “And I hope that when you reach your dream, you’ll write me a letter and you’ll tell me.”

Elena Kagan

Justice Kagan likes to talk about what happens behind the scenes at the Court, and as the youngest member, she has a unique viewpoint.

In an appearance in Rhode Island this summer, Kagan said little has changed at the Court, since she clerked for Thurgood Marshall in 1987, when it comes to the Justices and technology.

Kagan said the Justices don’t use email as a rule and they uses messengers to pass notes written on ivory papers between the Justice’s chambers.

"The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people," she said. "The Court hasn't really 'gotten to' email."

Kagan said the Justices turn to their young clerks to answer technology questions.

She also said that the development of technology and privacy issues would present a challenge to the Court, when it came to the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches.

"I think we are going to have to do a lot of thinking about that," Kagan said Tuesday during a wide-ranging discussion at Trinity Rep.

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