I never had the opportunity to sit down with the Founding Fathers at a Constitutional Convention. But last Friday, I—and a roomful of others—got the next-best thing.
That was the day in which the University of Arizona Law School celebrated Constitution Day. And they did it in the manner they do best—through mind-blowing smarts. Bravo.
Their plan, executed flawlessly, was to gather a distinguished panel of experts who could decipher Supreme Court and other cases. These cases, it was believed, could serve as a bellwether for the direction the Court was heading. Or not. Remember, panelists always reserve the right to point out that your mileage may differ from their prognostications.
The moderator did his part to keep the panel and the audience roused to a passionate and insightful pitch. In introducing each case in its turn, Professor David Marcus dispensed with a simplistic issue recitation in favor of crafting mini-vignettes. Each was a whirlwind, more tour de force than simple tour.
The effort and delivery he put into those moments signaled that the panel would be something out of the ordinary. I suspect, for instance, that those gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Constitution on September 17, 1787, would have rollicked quite a bit at Professor Marcus’s musings. Those gathered in a law school classroom certainly did.
Panelists, too, did their part to make the Constitution come alive (not that they all agreed it was “a living document”). The speakers were: former law school Dean Toni Massaro, esteemed Supreme Court advocate R. (Ted) Edward Cruz, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (and now Yale Law Prof) Linda Greenhouse, and federal district court judge Hon. Neil Wake.
During a break, I spoke with an influential Arizona lawyer, and he marveled at the talented panel that the school had gathered. “Just listening to them,” he said, “I feel like I don’t know that much.” My writing hand and I agreed.
You can see some of what I tweeted that day (search for the hashtag #UAConstitution). I think they give you an idea about the wide-ranging conversation. What a tweet may not capture, however, is the breadth and passion of the panelists’ conversation. Those things came to the fore more than once, as the lawyers struggled to dissect the reasoning of a Court thrust into the public more and more often.
One point of the conversation may illustrate that.
Judge Wake noted that Justice Scalia could be pointed in his opinion-writing, and he was disappointed that Justice Kagan had signaled a willingness to engage also in such muscular judging (my term, not Judge Wake’s).
Dean Massaro agreed, adding that the tenor of the Court is worsening, and that the benefit of pausing before engaging appears to be a declining art on the Court.
“The whole Court is becoming snap, snap, snap,” said Massaro. “When the Wall Street Journal says isn’t it great that Scalia is ‘delightfully brutal,’ it is no surprise that Justice Kagan may join in.”
She reiterated that point when she suggested that perhaps the Court would do well to take a pass on the lawsuits regarding the national health insurance reform law that are working their way toward the marble steps. (Judge Wake removed himself from the panel for that portion of the conversation.)
“The Court should restore a sense of the value of passive virtues. Leave the case alone for now.”
Disagreeing was Ted Cruz, who stressed that he hoped the law was found unconstitutional as soon as possible. He, Massaro and Greenhouse differed on whether the Court would—or should—find the law’s individual mandate unlawful.
Cruz said, “To uphold it would be to change us from a government of limited powers to a government of general powers.”
We shall see whose view a Court majority values. In the meantime, congratulations to the Law School for a stellar event.
More photos are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.
(I wrote about this panel discussion last week. Read it here.)Follow @azatty