Articles & Essays

 

JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS ANNOUNCES HE WILL RETIRE
AT THE END OF THE 2009-2010 TERM

Full coverage in April 2010 of the retirement of this long-serving, influential justice

ABSTRACT: Justice John Paul Stevens, an unassuming Chicagoan in bow ties who became a shrewd strategist and liberal leader of the modern Supreme Court, announced his retirement on April 9. He has served nearly 35 years and is about to turn 90. In many ways, Stevens' departure may be more significant for the Supreme Court than fellow liberal David Souter’s retirement last year. Stevens, more than any other justice on the left, has taken the lead to craft coalitions that include swing-vote conservatives, allowing liberals to prevail in some key cases that limited the death penalty and expanded gay rights even as the court shifted increasingly to the right. Read full package about Stevens's retirement and possible successors.

Watch Joan talk about Stevens's legacy on PBS's Washington Week with Gwen Ifill on April 9. The "Webcast Extra" includes Gwen asking Joan how Stevens's legacy also touches on baseball and Chicago. The answer is that Stevens was at Game Three of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field, during which Yankee slugger Babe Ruth pointed to center field, supposedly called the shot, and then hit a homerun ball right to the center-field bleachers. Stevens, then 12, was at the game.

THE ROBERTS COURT AT MID-TERM

A February 2010 story by Joan Biskupic examining how the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission could define the Roberts Court this term and in upcoming years.

ABSTRACT: As the Supreme Court nears the midpoint of its annual term and prepares to hear several momentous cases, one question looms: Will the justices' split decision reversing past rulings and allowing new corporate spending in political races set the tone for the term, or will Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission be an exception? Several pending cases — some that already have been argued, some that will be argued in upcoming weeks — are likely to show the reach of the Roberts Court and its boldness. Read full story.

SOTOMAYOR KEEPS BONDS TO HISPANIC COMMUNITY TIGHT

A December 2009 story by Joan Biskupic examining Justice Sonia Sotomayor's early months on the Court, including interviews with such prominent Hispanics as Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In the Heights").

ABSTRACT: Justice Sotomayor's community has embraced her and she, in turn, has shown a desire to sustain and celebrate the bonds with her people. In four months as a justice, she has reveled in her status as a role model and inspiration to Latinos. She attended a National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts gala and chose Latina magazine as the one media outlet for which she would sit for photographs. This month, she traveled to Puerto Rico, her parents' homeland, to meet with territory and U.S. judges there. She announced the trip with news releases printed in Spanish and English — a first for the court. Read full story.

 GINSBURG: COURT NEEDS ANOTHER WOMAN

A  May 2009 story from Joan Biskupic’s interviews with Justice Ginsburg on the need for more women on the bench and how Justice Ginsburg’s male colleagues have treated her through the years. 

ABSTRACT: Three years after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor left the Supreme Court, the impact of having only one woman on the nation's highest bench has become particularly clear to that woman — Ruth Bader Ginsburg. ….

Justice Ginsburg recalled that as a young lawyer her voice often was ignored by male peers. "I don't know how many meetings I attended in the ’60s and the ’70s, where I would say something, and I thought it was a pretty good idea. … Then somebody else would say exactly what I said. Then people would become alert to it, respond to it." Even after 16 years as a justice, she said, that still sometimes occurs. "It can happen even in the conferences in the court. When I will say something — and I don't think I'm a confused speaker — and it isn't until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point." Read the full story


SUPREME COURT'S STEVENS KEEPS CARDS CLOSE TO ROBE

An October 2009 story about Justice John Paul Stevens’s legacy and possible retirement plans.

ABSTRACT: The self-effacing man who is rarely recognized beyond the court's marble walls is a powerhouse behind the scenes — and this might finally be his last term. Stevens' retirement would leave a major gap among liberals and shake up a court already in transition with a new justice this term. Stevens has not hired his usual set of law clerks for the session beginning in October 2010. He says he is surprised by media attention to a signal he might retire soon. "That can't be news. I'm not exactly a kid." Read the full story


SUPREME COURT CASE WITH THE FEEL OF A BEST SELLER

Read about a recent Supreme Court case that seemed plucked from the pages of fiction.

ABSTRACT: In a small town, a local resident claims wrongdoing by a big corporation and wins a multimillion-dollar award after a jury trial. The corporation's CEO then pumps enough campaign money into a judicial election to get a new judge on the state supreme court. During an appeal, that judge casts a critical vote siding with the corporation — and reversing the resident's victory. …

Sound like the plot of a John Grisham novel? It is — his 2008 best seller, The Appeal. But it also resembles a real dispute between West Virginia coal mining rivals that now is before the U.S. Supreme Court. The decade-long dispute, a reflection of the growing questions surrounding judicial elections, tests whether an elected judge's refusal to take himself off a case involving a chief financial backer is unconstitutional.  Read the full story


STRIP SEARCH REVIEW TESTS LIMITS OF SCHOOL DRUG POLICY

Read Joan Biskupic’s account of a recent Supreme Court case involving Arizona school administrators’ strip search of a 13-year-old girl who was thought to have drugs.

ABSTRACT: Eighth-grader Savana Redding was scared and confused when an assistant principal searching for drugs ordered her out of math class, searched her backpack and then instructed an administrative aide and school nurse to conduct a strip search.….

Drug searches, along with drug tests for students in athletics and other extracurricular activities, have become common in schools across the nation. But the search of Savana at Safford Middle School on Oct. 8, 2003, ignited a legal dispute that has landed before the U.S. Supreme Court — and could transform the landscape of drug searches in public schools. Read the full story


HIGH COURT JUSTICES TO PONDER LIFE IMPRISONMENT FOR JUVENILES

Read about one of the most closely watched cases of the Supreme Court’s current term, involving whether locking up juvenile offenders without any chance of parole violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

ABSTRACT: Although the number of young offenders imprisoned for life is small, juvenile law experts say their plight gives a face to a larger national debate over the wisdom of tough juvenile sentences in various circumstances. Now the Supreme Court is entering the debate — and will potentially influence juvenile sentencing trends nationwide. The justices will use the case of Terrance Jamar Graham, who was 16 when he brake into a Jacksonville restaurant and tried to rob the place, and that of Joe Sullivan, who was 13 when he raped an elderly woman in 1989, to decide whether life-without-parole sentences for young criminals are unconstitutionally harsh. Read the full story