Political science students visit City Club of Cleveland

March 26th, 2015


Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Supreme Court aficionado, member of Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Law School lecturer, and “New York Times” Journalist; Linda Greenhouse has earned all of these titles, and more. On Friday, March 20th, Greenhouse spoke at the Cleveland City Club about the past ten years of the Roberts Court, or the Supreme Court under the tenure of Chief Justice John G. Roberts.


The speech, attended by nine John Carroll student and led by political science professor Sara Schiavoni, lasted for approximately 30 minutes and had a 30 minute question and answer session.


In her speech, Greenhouse clearly outlined the three major themes of the Robert’s Majority (those Supreme Court Justices that usually vote alongside Roberts: Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito). These three themes are Race, Religion, and the First Amendment. While speaking on these themes, Greenhouse interwove Justice Anthony Kennedy’s status as the swing vote among the nine justices. She stated that he usually supports the Robert’s Majority, but leans more liberally on other social issues, such as LGBT rights.


When speaking on the Race aspect of what Greenhouse called the Robert’s Project, Greenhouse referenced the infamous Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which ruled that part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional because, based upon the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, the racial conditions of the time in which the Voting Rights Act was written have changed; moreover, the measures of the Voting Rights Act that are used to keep racial discrimination away from the ballot box are outdated and unconstitutional.


Greenhouse also highlighted that since Sandra Day O’Connor was succeeded by Samuel Alito in 2006, there has been a conservative shift in the ruling of Supreme Court cases.


When discussing the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding religion, Linda Greenhouse cited a multitude of cases, from Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, in which the Supreme Court ruled that for profit corporations are allowed to be exempt from providing their employees with contraception based on religious reasons, to the Town of Greece vs. Galloway, where a town opening government meetings with a prayer does not violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. In her analysis, Greenhouse summarized Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion as the “suck it up” jurisprudence.


Greenhouse used the Town of Greece case to transition to the First Amendment aspect of the Robert’s Project. She stated that the Robert’s majority was using this as a “tool of deregulation” and that, when focusing on the Establishment and Exercise clauses of Religion. Greenhouse argued that the Robert’s Court is not balancing these two clauses as the Supreme Court should; instead, the current bench is focusing more on the Establishment clause at the expense of the Exercise clause.


Greenhouse closed her speech by talking about the currently highly debated court case revolving around the Affordable Care Act. Her prediction is that, the government will win if the Supreme Court uses the typical method of analysis to dissect the short phrase of the 900 page document in question; however, if the analysis is different, the government will lose the case.


This insight inspired a question from the audience regarding what would happen to Justice Scalia’s status as an expert in legislative analysis if he ruled against the Affordable Care Act for political reasons, since a ruling against the government would align with his political ideology. Greenhouse responded by stating that “the chips will fall where they may.”


While a myriad questions were asked, John Carroll senior, Shamir Brice, asked, “How is John Roberts push to have 9-0 decision going, and is it just papering over legal differences?” Greenhouse answered this question by citing McCullen vs. Oakley, a unanimous case revolving around the size of abortion clinics. She stated that, despite this unanimity, the Justices had two completely different reasons for ruling in the same way.