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American Constitution Society Hosts Supreme Court Review and Preview Panel

September 23, 2011

By Nicole Greenstein C’14

Four distinguished panelists gathered in Penn Law’s Levy Conference Room on September 22 to discuss and answer questions about the previous and upcoming Supreme Court terms. Sponsored by the American Constitution Society for Law & Policy, this Supreme Court Preview and Review Panel addressed a wide array of issues ranging from health care, gun regulation and the freedom of the press.

Supreme Court Review and Preview
L-R: Thomas Goldstein, Linda Greenhouse, Randy Barnett, Monica Youn, and Tobias Barrington Wolff

Speaking to a room filled with faculty, students, attorneys and community members, moderator Penn Law Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff opened the evening’s event by introducing the four panelists: Randy Barnett, Thomas Goldstein, Linda Greenhouse and Monica Youn. Each panelist started by offering a summary of their background before explaining what issues in the Supreme Court interest and concern them.

Barnett, a Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory from Georgetown Law Center as well as a visiting professor to Penn Law, spoke about the heated debate surrounding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Barnett has written extensively about the healthcare act in Op-Ed pieces featured in newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, but he formally became involved in the case when he joined a legal team representing the National Federation of Independent Business. As a strong disbeliever in the act’s constitutionality, Barnett presented his reasons as to why he believes the act might not survive the Supreme Court’s scrutiny.

“In this case, Congress is not regulating activity. Congress is actually reaching out to mandate activity,” Barnett explained.

Barnett argued that the scope of President Obama’s health care plan extends “outside the line that the Supreme Court has previously drawn” in cases such U.S v. Lopez, which limited the power of Congress to reach inside intrastate activity, he said.

 “It’s high time for the high court to hear this case,” Barnett added.

Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, took a different stance on the issue of healthcare. She said that Barnett’s assertions should be “taken with a grain of salt,” particularly his argument that the Supreme Court might rule Obama’s healthcare act as unconstitutional due to its unprecedented nature.

“Maybe we should have done this a long time ago, and then it wouldn’t be unprecedented,” Greenhouse countered.

Supreme Court Review and Preview
Randy Barnett, Monica Youn, and Tobias Barrington Wolff
Monica Youn, Director of the Brennan Center's campaign finance reform project, brought up another highly controversial issue about pharmaceutical companies disclosing their records of the public’s personal prescription data for marketing purposes.

Greenhouse agreed, stating that to take someone’s private medical information and use it for marking purposes is “a pretty pressing” issue that could have sweeping effects in terms of setting a precedent on the issue of personal privacy.

Thomas Goldstein, a renowned Supreme Court advocate and founding partner of Goldstein & Russell, P.C, also spoke about the importance of future Supreme Court appointments.

“The amount of socially and politically infused cases is awesome in its scope,” Goldstein explained, citing cases involving abortion, gay rights, and other issues that polarize the American public. As a result, Supreme Court appointments have become more consequential than ever before, he said.

As the event neared its conclusion, Wolff picked a handful of questions from the audience to ask the four expert panelists. One audience member asked about the political dimension of the Court, and was wondering whether cases near a presidential race can affect the election’s outcome.

Wolff offered his own opinion to the question, stating that with the pressing issues of our current economic climate, the Court’s decisions are unlikely to alter the upcoming election. However, Wolff explained that in other elections the Supreme Court often plays a significant role.

“It is I think true, not in this election cycle but in others, that the issue of the Supreme Court and the composition of the Court moving forward with possible appointments can be a powerful issue,” Wolff explained.

For audience member Noel León L’14, the panel offered some very intriguing and insightful discussions.

“They were incredible,” she said. “They had differing opinions on the huge issues, and it was just amazing to watch these great minds speak about these important questions.”

One of the event’s organizers, Aaron Safane L’12, also thought the evening was a success.

“I thought it was tremendous, and I especially liked the debate between the panelists about healthcare,” he said. “It really shows how we can talk about events in law school that affect real life.”