Once the most admired and most trusted government institution in the country, the Supreme Court now is the point of the political spear, a partisan telltale that cleaves the country into warring camps: Conservatives, who spent a generation campaigning to reform the court, celebrate the new majority for shattering liberal precedents and hail it for goring a woke government’s orthodoxies; liberals vilify it as corrupt, a blunderbuss in the right's effort to remake the country in its nationalist image. And even many centrists say the court is out of step with public opinion and mainstream legal theory. That has given new impetus to efforts to “remake” the court, threatening its very survival in its current form.
In this episode of Common Ground with Jane Whitney, a panel of legal scholars from across the political spectrum discusses the swirling controversy enveloping SCOTUS and the burgeoning efforts to reform the court in what is billed as an effort to save it from itself.
Judge j. michael Luttig
The co-chair of President Biden’s Commission on the Supreme Court, Cristina Rodríguez joins our esteemed panel.
A tenured professor at Yale Law School, she led the commission’s evaluation of the major ideas to reform SCOTUS, including proposals to impose term limits and expand the court’s membership.
That’s made her a leading authority on structural reforms of the court.
Called “one of the most respected legal minds of his generation” by The Washington Post, Luttig forged his reputation as a fastidious, devoutly conservative judge while on the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from 1991 to 2006. Inspired by justices for whom he clerked – Antonin Scalia and Warren E. Burger – Luttig energized a crop of conservative law students and legal professionals with painstakingly thorough opinions on abortion, the death penalty, and gender rights.
After departing for the private sector, Luttig has returned to the public fray to defend the country’s democracy and to support Supreme Court reform. Shortlisted two times for a SCOTUS nomination, the former judge has become an authoritative voice on reforming the court, testifying to Congress earlier this year in support of imposing a code of ethics on the justices.
A former assistant counsel to President Ronald Reagan, Luttig also sees himself as on a mission to rescue the Republican party from Donald Trump – and itself. In addition to advising Mike Pence through the 2020 post- election crisis, Luttig testified of Trump’s danger at a January 6 committee hearing and, in a New York Times Op-Ed, has called on Republicans to repudiate Donald Trump the way they abandoned Richard Nixon.
A mafia prosecutor famous for his zeal who became a liberal lion as the “pounding heart” of the Mueller's Special Counsel's investigation, Andrew Weissmann, joins our panel.
A former Chief of the Fraud Section in the Department of Justice, he was described as a ‘pit bull’ by the New York Times and directed the Enron Task Force, winning convictions of almost all the Houston energy company's senior executives.
Sarah Isgur is a partisan warrior who became a liberal bete noir but now is noted as an advocate for tempering political passions.
Isgur cut her political teeth as a strategist for Republican headliners and hardliners but became a household name as the spokesperson for the Trump Justice Department, a nationally recognized face for many of the administration’s most controversial decisions, including its family separation policy and the so-called Muslim travel ban.
Pressed by President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election, Vice President Mike Pence sought guidance from a legal authority so revered his words just might have the power to stop a brewing coup.
The judicial voice of God for Pence and many other members of the conservative bar?
Our lead panelist, J. Michael Luttig, a former Appeals Court judge.
She told The Washington Post that the commission strengthened her beliefs that term limits could better distribute power among the Justices and that years of Congressional dysfunction has forced the court to assume responsibilities properly belonging to the legislative branch.
The daughter of a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, Rodríguez is a renowned scholar of immigration and constitutional law. Her recent book, The President and Immigration Law, was called “a must-read to understand the current immigration controversy” by The Washington Book Review.
Yale Law School’s first tenured Hispanic professor, Rodríguez previously served for two years as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice. She was a faculty member at New York University School of Law from 2004 to 2012 and clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
A federal prosecutor for 15 years in the Eastern District of New York, Weissmann prosecuted multiple members of the Colombo, Gambino, and Genovese criminal families and used Mr. Gravano, better known as Sammy the Bull, as a powerful ally in their effort to jail high-ranking mobsters.
He has become one of the most recognizable faces of the American bar as a legal affairs analyst for MSNBC, appearing so often on screen that many viewers say he lives in the studio. He also co-hosts the podcast Prosecuting Donald Trump, where he explains the finer legal points of criminal cases and explains the complexities of prosecuting the 45th President.
A graduate of Columbia Law School and Princeton University, he currently teaches criminal and national security law at New York University School of Law.
Since leaving the administration she has become a noted political commentator and has emerged as an advocate for restraint and moderation, especially in the judiciary. In an interview with NPR after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Isgur decried the ruling’s “lack of humility” and, in a Washington Post Op-Ed, called for the justices to check their partisanship.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was president of its Federalist Society chapter, she was a strategist for Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina and the Republican National Committee. Since leaving the administration, she has worked as a commentator for CNN and ABC and for The Dispatch, where she hosts a podcast called Advisory Opinions and writes a newsletter, “The Sweep.”