No ‘shrinking violets’: Denniston on independent justices

From left: Professor Garrett Epps, Lyle Denniston and Dean Ronald Weich.

From left: Professor Garrett Epps, visiting professor Lyle Denniston and Dean Ronald Weich

Reporter Steve Lash of The Daily Record wrote a first-person account of Monday’s Constitution Day lecture by visiting professor Lyle Denniston, who has covered the Supreme Court for multiple news outlets since 1958.

“I first met Lyle Denniston in 1989, my first year covering the U.S. Supreme Court — his 31st,” Lash began in “At UB Law, Lyle Denniston holds court.”

On Monday evening, after an introduction by Dean Ronald Weich, Denniston and Professor Garrett Epps discussed the Supreme Court and its relationship with U.S. politics. The lecture was titled “Is the Supreme Court a Political Institution? Yes, and No.”

Wrote Lash: “Yes, the court is political, Lyle says, but only to the extent it renders decisions with political consequences, such as in the areas of campaign finance, gerrymandering and that case which essentially decided a presidential election 16 years ago, Bush v. Gore. But Lyle says he disagrees with those who say the justices render their decisions based not on sound interpretation of the law but on which political party will benefit.

“He blames the media, in part, for fueling the perception of a ‘political court,’ citing news stories that make a point of mentioning the presidents who appointed the justices who wrote the majority and dissenting opinions, as if their decisions are a payment for their appointment.”

Denniston emphasized that the justices are well aware that the court is an independent branch of government.

“[The Supreme Court] is no shrinking violet,” he said. “[The justices] wake up in the morning being acutely aware of Article III.”

Article III of the Constitution established the judicial branch of the federal government.

Denniston is to present two more lectures in a fall series titled “Citizenship and Freedom: The Supreme Court and American Politics”:

Oct 20: “When the Politicians Pick the Voters”

Nov. 16: “Picking the Justices: A System in Disgrace”

The lectures are free and open to the public.

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