Even as public confidence in other institutions of American government and society wavered, the Supreme Court managed to maintain high levels of public trust and respect. That era ended in the summer of 2022, when the Dobbs case overturned Roe v. Wade and erased the constitutional right to abortion. Confidence in the court plummeted to well under 50 percent, with only seven percent of the public expressing high confidence, according to a mid-2023 poll. And on top of profound disagreement with the course of the court’s decisions, ethics scandals enveloped the court as the public learned that some justices had been enjoying unreported favors from wealthy friends.
Greenhouse’s presentation will explore the causes and implications of the collapse of public confidence in the Supreme Court. What happens when the court, continuing to involve itself in society’s most contentious questions, produces answers that the public rejects? This disconnect between the court and the public was at the heart of the crisis of the 1930s, when conservative justices invoked discredited constitutional theories to block the foundations of FDR’s New Deal. A political and judicial settlement emerged from that period of crisis, under which the court would refrain from interfering with the political system’s economic and regulatory policies, while using its power to protect what it called “discrete and insular minorities.” That nearly century-old settlement is unraveling before our eyes. What are the prospects that a new shared understanding of the Supreme Court’s role will emerge?
Linda Greenhouse is a longtime observer of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times for 30 years (1978-2008), winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her coverage. Since 2009, she has taught at Yale Law School and has written some 300 New York Times op-ed essays about the court and the law. She has received many journalism awards as well as 17 honorary degrees. Her sixth and most recent book is Justice on the Brink: A Requiem for the Supreme Court (Random House, 2021). A third edition of The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press) was published in 2023. From 2017-2023, she was president of the American Philosophical Society, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 for “promoting useful knowledge.” She has served on several nonprofit boards, including the Harvard University Board of Overseers and the national Senate of Phi Beta Kappa.
Greenhouse is a graduate of Radcliffe College (Harvard) and earned a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale. She and her husband, Eugene Fidell, divide their time between Stockbridge, MA and Pasadena, CA.