The late Justice Antonin Scalia and the vacancy he left behind continued to loom large over the justices’ summer appearances, as his colleagues were often called upon to speak about his legacy, their memories of serving with him, and their thoughts on adjusting to an eight-member Supreme Court.
From June 26 to July 21, Justice Clarence Thomas served as the instructor for a constitutional law course at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s study abroad program in Nice, France. Thomas participated in place of Scalia, who had taught the class in previous years.
Also teaching in France this summer was Justice Samuel Alito, who was a guest lecturer at Tulane University Law School’s summer sessions in Paris (and later, Berlin). The National Law Journal (registration required) reported on the Justice’s involvement with the programs.
From July 19 to 23, Justice Alito, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and retired Justice John Paul Stevens participated in a New York University Law School conference in Barcelona, Spain. The conference focused on the economic and security consequences arising from the collapse of states; a brief report is available on NYU’s website.
Justice Stephen Breyer also spent time in Europe over the summer recess, delivering the Ditchley Foundation’s 52nd Annual Lecture in Enstone, Great Britain, on July 9. Video and a transcript of the lecture are available on the Ditchley Foundation’s website.
Shifting our review to the United States, Justice Sonia Sotomayor read the Declaration of Independence for Heritage Day at the Oysterponds Historical Society in Orient, New York. Video of the reading is posted online. The Suffolk Times covered the surprise appearance, noting that the “historical society was asked to keep Justice Sotomayor’s visit a secret until the day of the parade.”
On July 11, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice responsible for overseeing the U.S.Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, spoke at the circuit’s 2016 judicial conference in Big Sky, Montana. Kennedy’s talk addressed a variety of topics, including Scalia, selfies, civics, and the musical “Hamilton.” “Civics isn’t something where you learn it for a couple of weeks in high school,” the Bozeman Daily Chronicle quoted Kennedy as stating. “It’s who we are. This is our heritage and you must know our heritage. ‘Hamilton’ is a splendid way to know our heritage.” Of the transformative power of the Internet, Kennedy had this to say: “Many in the modern age confuse a selfie and yourself.”
On July 13 and 14, Justice Breyer headlined two events at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference in Idaho – the first a conversation on “Law and Literature” in which Breyer divulged the books, films, and plays that have “informed his value system and judicial reasoning,” and the second a discussion of his latest book, “The Court and the World.” The Justice is a repeat guest at the writers’ conference, where he also spoke in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Also on July 14, Justice Sotomayor returned to New York for the Bronx Children’s Museum’s Dream Big Day. The museum recounted Sotomayor’s encouragement to the children in attendance: “I want you to be me, because I am you, and that means you need to dream big.” Sotomayor has attended Dream Big Day for the past seven years, the museum noted.
Like Justices Sotomayor and Breyer, Justice Ginsburg also has favorite places and organizations that she returns to each summer. Chief among Ginsburg’s passions off the bench is opera, and on August 26, she made her annual visit to the Glimmerglass Festival, providing commentary while members of Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program performed a selection of opera scenes touching on the themes of law and justice.
Ginsburg also displayed her love of the arts when she traveled to the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo in Venice, Italy, where she watched her grandson perform in a production of “The Merchant of Venice” before presiding over a mock appeal based on the play. According to The New York Times, Ginsburg had a favorable assessment of her grandson’s turn on the stage: “He’s very, very good. I admit to being a little prejudiced on the subject, but I thought he was wonderful.”
On her return to the states, Ginsburg spoke to students at Duke Law School’s D.C. Summer Institute on Law and Policy on August 4 about the Supreme Court’s most recent term, noting that Scalia’s death was “by far the most momentous occurrence of the term,” but that the remaining justices “did very well” in minimizing the number of rulings that ended in a 4-4 tie. The National Law Journal (registration required) covered Ginsburg’s remarks. Video of the appearance is posted on YouTube.
In New Mexico, Ginsburg delivered the keynote address at the State Bar of New Mexico’s Annual Meeting on August 19. Repeating a phrase she had used at Duke Law School earlier, Ginsburg stated of the ongoing vacancy at the Court: “Eight is not a good number.” The Santa Fe New Mexican covered her speech. While in the Land of Enchantment, Ginsburg also took time to participate in the United Way of Santa Fe County’s early childhood education program, reading aloud the book “Go West” to the audience of young children and their parents, and teaching the children the difference between a carrot and a chili pepper. The Albuquerque Journal published a report of her visit, and video of the reading is available online via the Santa Fe New Mexican.
On August 10, Justice Elena Kagan participated in a dinner conversation at the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C.
In mid-August, Justice Sotomayor traveled to Alaska, becoming the first Supreme Court justice to visit the Last Frontier since SCOTUS Map began keeping track of speaking engagements in 2014. Sotomayor made an appearance at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on August 14, telling the audience that despite her reputation for being “tough,” “I’m a pussycat inside. So it’s really hard when people say they’re scared of me because I can’t understand why… But I do think that I’ve been blessed with an assertive personality.” UAF posted the video, while print and audio recaps come from Alaska Public Media.
According to KTUU, Sotomayor visited 12 cities while in Alaska. In addition to her Fairbanks lecture, she also spoke in Anchorage, where she shared the stage with Judge Morgan Christen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for an August 17 conversation hosted by the Alaska Bar Association. Mixed in with the serious questions were a few light-hearted ones: After a child asked her to identify the Hogwarts house that she would belong to, Sotomayor replied, “Gryffindor. I’m an extrovert.” Additional coverage of the event comes from KTVA.
Meanwhile, back in the Lower 48, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was on hand for the August 15 grand opening of the Beus Center for Law and Society at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. AZCentral.com covered the festivities.
Wrapping up the Court’s August events, Justice Kagan delivered the annual McCormick Society Lecture at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law on August 31. In a wide-ranging conversation, Kagan touched on topics such as the justices’ use of technology, diversity at the Supreme Court, the oral argument laughter rankings, and her early days at One First Street. Kagan described the extensive preparations she undertook ahead of her first-ever conference: “It’s a little bit nerve-wracking. You don’t know how people will talk to each other, so you over-prepare. You’re ready to give 45-minute lectures on every topic, when it turns out if you did that, you would arouse the enmity of all your colleagues.” Coverage comes from the Arizona Daily Star and Arizona Public Media. C-Span has made video of the lecture available online.
On September 1, Justice Sotomayor spoke at both the Tenth Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado Springs and the Metropolitan State University of Denver. The Associated Press reports that Sotomayor declined to discuss politics at her MSU appearance. Video of the MSU visit is available online.
The following day, Justice Kagan participated in a fireside chat with the Tenth Circuit Historical Society, while Sotomayor traveled to Boulder to give the Annual John Paul Stevens Lecture at Colorado Law. “The people that I take the most objection to are the people who say, ‘I did it by myself,’” Sotomayor told the audience. “Nobody does it by themselves.” According to the Daily Camera, she also had this advice for the students in attendance: Be decisive. “You’re not very valuable to people if you can’t make up your mind.” Additional coverage comes from the Denver Post and CUIndependent.com.
Justice Alito spoke to NYU students at the school’s Shanghai campus on September 1, and then to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai on September 2. According to AmCham Shanghai’s summary of the off-the-record event, Alito covered topics including globalization, the dynamics on the Supreme Court, and his views on political correctness.
Justice Thomas returned to his home state of Georgia to teach a course on stare decisis at the University of Georgia School of Law. Justice Kagan also staged a homecoming of sorts, going back to her alma mater, Harvard Law School, in early September to lead a class that covered the Supreme Court’s most recent term.
At a September 8 event for HLS students, Kagan discussed the duties of being the junior justice (“Every time I think, I really do not want to go to the cafeteria committee meeting, I think, Justice Breyer went to the cafeteria committee meetings for 11 years.”) and the challenges of working on an eight-person court. “I think that the Court has done well over the past year in operating notwithstanding that difficulty of not having a tie-breaking vote … That said, there have been those cases where we can’t reach a decision, and there have been other cases where although we did in the end reach a decision, we did so only by narrowing them in a way that took off the table the reason why we took the case in the first place.” Kagan added that doing so merely delayed resolving “the real thing that’s confounding the lower courts,” and that “over time, that’s a problem.” Harvard Law School has uploaded video to its YouTube page, and coverage comes from the Harvard Crimson.
In her September 7 lecture at Georgetown Law, Justice Ginsburg was also asked to express her views on the Supreme Court’s vacant seat and Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s stalled nomination. “I do think cooler heads will prevail, I hope sooner rather than later,” Ginsburg said. The Washington Post covered Ginsburg’s remarks, while video of the event can be accessed through C-SPAN.
Justice Sotomayor delivered the Robert Kastenmeier Lecture at Wisconsin Law on September 8. Speaking about the criminal justice system, Sotomayor stated that it would be far easier for society to “invest in kids when they’re young, to keep them away from the temptations of the streets than to undo the bad the streets create.” Sotomayor called Scalia’s absence “a big hole in the court,” noting that they never had the chance to attend a Yankees game together as they had discussed. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Associated Press covered the lecture. The University of Wisconsin has made video available.
At Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s September 11 event honoring Scalia, Justice Ginsburg paid tribute to her colleague and friend. “I once asked how we could be friends given our disagreement on lots of things. Justice Scalia answered: ‘I attack ideas. I do not attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas,’” Ginsburg recalled, according to Loyola’s law school blog. She later appeared at the Annual Soiree to benefit Cedille Chicago, presenting the Martin D. Ginsburg Award (named after her late husband) to the philanthropist Joan W. Harris.
While in the Midwest, Ginsburg also visited Indiana, where she spoke at the University of Notre Dame about having to adjust her retirement plans. “I always said I would serve as long as Justice [Louis] Brandeis, but he retired at 83 so I can’t use that one anymore. My current answer is as long as I can do it full steam, and that means I have to take it year by year.” Judge Ann Claire Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, who moderated the conversation with Ginsburg, surprised the Justice and the audience by performing an RBG-themed version of Carmen’s Habanera, replete with lyrics such as “Twenty-three years spent on the Court/At eighty-three she holds up the fort/Twenty pushups in her routine/A Justice I think we have never seen.’ Notre Dame posted the video of Ginsburg’s visit to YouTube. News coverage comes from the South Bend Tribune, The Indiana Lawyer, and WNDU.
On September 13, Justice Kagan spoke at the George Washington University Law School, reminding students that Justice Scalia wrote his fiery and quotable dissents with them in mind. “You are the future of the profession, so to the extent we can communicate with you, we’re shaping the next generation of legal thought.” Asked which case she considered the most consequential in her six years on the Supreme Court, Kagan responded: “Every case is consequential to someone. You owe it to that someone to approach everything with a high degree of seriousness.” Video and a recap of the event are available online.
At the Association of Corporate Counsel National Capital Region Fireside Chat on September 14, Justice Ginsburg advised law firms to make it easier for employees to balance home life and work life. Speaking from the Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Virginia, Ginsburg observed ruefully that “firms don’t seem to be moving that fast to be flexible.” Coverage comes from the National Law Journal (subscription required).
Also on September 14, Justice Stevens gave the keynote address at his namesake award luncheon at the Chicago Bar Association.
Justice Kagan had originally been slated to receive the Brandeis Medal from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law on September 15, but canceled her appearance. Mark Sherman of the Associated Press reported, via the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office, that Justice Kagan had been suffering from a “severe cold.” A date for the rescheduled appearance has not yet been announced.
Justice Sotomayor packed her mid-September schedule with events in her hometown of New York. On September 15, she participated in a panel at Just The Beginning’s National Conference, where she discussed the film “The Trials of Constance Baker Motley” alongside five federal judges. The following day, she sat down for a conversation with Fordham University School of Law students. On September 17, she spoke at the Fast Forward Women’s Leadership Forum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On September 19, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Breyer and Alito took part in a re-enactment of the 1794 case Georgia v. Brailsford. The trial, which was part of an American College of Trial Lawyers United States-United Kingdom legal exchange, took place at the Old City Hall in Philadelphia, where the Supreme Court used to sit from 1791 to 1800. SCOTUSblog, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal reported on the event.
Like Justice Sotomayor, Justice Ginsburg also took the time to stop by Fordham Law, making a September 20 appearance that was covered by NY1. “I think everyone would agree, for a collegial body, eight is not a good number,” NY1 reported Ginsburg as saying. “You need an odd number and all of us hope by the end of the current term we will have a full house.” Additional coverage comes from New York Law Journal.
Justice Sotomayor was honored with the Leadership Award at the 29th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards in Washington, D.C. yesterday.
With less than two weeks to go before the Supreme Court opens its 2016 Term: