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Former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse
spoke at the 11th annual James R. Soles Lecture on Sept. 19 at the
University of Delaware’s Newark campus.
Linda Greenhouse covered the U.S. Supreme Court for the New York Times for
nearly 30 years, winning a Pulitzer Prize for her work in 1998. When
she delivered the James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and
Citizenship on Sept. 19 in the University of Delaware’s Gore Recital
Hall, she had a warning for the audience.
“If, over time, the Supreme Court loses touch with public sentiment that is a dangerous moment for democracy,” Greenhouse said.
Greenhouse is now a senior research scholar at Yale Law School. Her
Soles Lecture was entitled “Who Owns the Constitution?” and it was
attended by one of the largest crowds in the 11-year history of the
lecture, which is held to mark Constitution Day and to honor the late UD
Professor James Soles. Greenhouse devoted most of her remarks to the
Supreme Court’s June decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and revoked the constitutional right to abortion.
Greenhouse said she believes the Supreme Court has become politicized
and, in the process, has disregarded public sentiment. “Polls indicated
that two-thirds of the public did not want Roe v. Wade
overturned. Eighty-one percent of Americans oppose a total abortion
ban,” she said. “Yet, not to be deterred, the Court plowed ahead.”
In their dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer,
Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority’s decision
“undermines the court’s legitimacy.” Greenhouse noted that the decline
in public support for the Court has been swift. She pointed to a recent
Pew Research Center poll that indicated that 63% of young people (ages
18-29) hold an unfavorable view of the Supreme Court. While older
Americans are still clinging to slightly more favorable views, diffuse
support for the institution of the Supreme Court has been punctured, she
said. In contrast, when the Supreme Court decided in Bush v. Gore
that Florida did not need to complete a recount in the 2000
presidential elections, the “Court did not take a hit,” Greenhouse
The difference is that Gore supported the legitimacy of the Court by
ultimately accepting his defeat once it ruled, leading most of the
public who had voted for him to do so as well.
“I have never felt the sense of urgency that I do now,” Greenhouse
said. An indication of this is the name change of her recent book. Her
2021 book, Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months that Transformed the
Supreme Court, is coming out in an updated and paperback format on
Oct. 4, one day after the Supreme Court begins its new term. Greenhouse
noted that the new subtitle of the paperback version will simply be: A Requiem for the Supreme Court.
Justice on the Brink is Greenhouse’s sixth book and, she noted
in an interview earlier in the day, will probably be her last. Not that
the 75-year-old is slowing down. She is an instructor at Yale Law
School’s Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic, which provides clients with pro
bono representation before the Supreme Court. She also continues to
write regularly for The Times and other publications. She had two
articles published the week of this lecture, including a piece on Chief
Justice John Roberts and the Voting Rights Act in the October issue of The Atlantic.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse
chats with Leonard P. Stark, a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the Federal Circuit and a former student of James Soles.
A few hours before her lecture, she spoke to a small but engaged
group of political science and communication students in Wayne Batchis’
“Election Law” class. Malini Gulati, a junior double majoring in English
and political science, asked about the need for reporters to be
objective and Greenhouse referenced her 2017 book: Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between,
which delves into press objectivity and the shift that has occurred in
recent years regarding the norms of press neutrality and objectivity.
Greenhouse’s current role is not to be an objective reporter, but to
deliver opinions. When senior political science major Erin Sheeran
referenced the current “cancel culture” and asked if Greenhouse is
concerned about being censured, Greenhouse noted that she follows
conservative memes. “If I don’t get them upset, I have failed,” she
said, with a broad smile.
Sheeran is one of two Soles Undergraduate Citizenship Stipend
Awardees for 2022. The other award winner is Anna Squiers. Both attended
the lecture, and many of Sole’s former students also were in
attendance. Sheeran is using the stipend to support her work as a
legislative intern in the Washington office of Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris
Coons (D). Squiers’s stipend is supporting her internship with the
Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington.
This annual lecture honors the late James R. Soles, who was a faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations
for more than 34 years. The lecture is held around the time of
Constitution Day, as it also serves to commemorate the signing of the
U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787.
Soles, who died in 2010, received the University’s Excellence in
Teaching Award twice and its Excellence in Advising Award, as well as
the University’s Medal of Distinction. He received many honors and
recognitions in his distinguished career, but he is still best
remembered for his personal dedication to teaching and to his students.
The James R. Soles Citizenship Endowment supports a named
professorship, undergraduate citizenship stipends and graduate
fellowships. The first stipends were awarded more than 10 years ago, and
recipients have used this support in a wide range of accomplishments. Learn more about recent recipients.