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Linda Greenhouse discusses Supreme Court at UD

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Former New York Times reporter delivers Soles Lecture

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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 said.

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.​

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​​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.​

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About the James R. Soles Lecture and the Soles Citizenship Endowment

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.​

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