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9/17: Constitutional Scholar Examines Supreme Court in Constitution Day Lecture

W&L Audio:

A. E. Dick Howard

Constitution and Supreme Court scholar A.E. Dick Howard, of the University of Virginia, told a Constitution Day audience at Washington and Lee University on Friday that he sees the court entering a period when it will be somewhat unpredictable before it settles into a long period of stability.

"As any student of group dynamics would tell you, it matters who the people are who are interacting," Howard said. "When the court had a period of 11 years with no turnover, they settled into a pattern. Now they have had some vacancies and have one more new member (Elena Kagan) joining this fall," said Howard. "It's going to take a little settling-in time to get to know one another and decide how they want to interact. Then I think we will settle in for a very long period."

Howard's lecture, "The Changing Face of the Supreme Court," was sponsored by W&L's department of politics and the William Lyne Wilson II Symposium Fund. Howard is currently the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the U.Va. School of Law. A Rhodes Scholar, he was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black.

Howard referred to the argument about the court in recent years over the way in which the justices see the Constitution. Noting that the late Justice William Brennan used to refer to "the living Constitution," Howard said that "Brennan's picture of the Constitution was of an organic document that continues to develop and pick up meaning with each generation. That's opposed to [Justice Antonin] Scalia and others who say, 'No, no. We have to look at the Constitution and what it meant when it was written by those who understood it at that time... If you want to change it, amend it.' "

Howard said that while it is easy to get preoccupied with the Supreme Court and identify it with the Constitution, "there are two other branches, and they matter. And beyond the three branches, there are all of us - the American people. I think that's the message you want to carry away on Constitution Day. In a way that is distinctive in all the world, it is more nearly the people's constitution in this country than in any other country."


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