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Symposium Examines Supreme Court's Role In Social Change

March 27, 2006

CONTACT: Mark Kende, (515) 271-2824, mark.kende@drake.edu;
Daniel P. Finney, (515) 271-2833, daniel.finney@drake.edu


Legal scholars from across the nation will examine the U.S. Supreme Court’s role in social change at the annual Drake University Law School Constitutional Law Symposium set for Saturday, April 8, with activities beginning at 8 a.m. in the Constitutional Law Center, Cartwright Hall, 2621 Carpenter Ave.


The Supreme Court has issued socially significant decisions since the country’s founding. “Brown v. Board of Education,” for example, desegregated schools in the South and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement. The high court has rendered important rulings in areas including abortion, gay rights, affirmative action and the like. For years, the political left therefore saw the Supreme Court, and the judiciary generally, as a primary protector of rights and liberties. During this time, the political right often criticized the Supreme Court as being activist and unprincipled.


More recently, some on the left have asserted that courts cannot bring about meaningful social change. Meanwhile some on the right have focused their efforts on petitioning the courts to restore economic liberties and broaden freedom of religion. With issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the Pledge of Allegiance on the horizon, the controversy over the Supreme Court’s role will not end any time soon. This symposium will explore diverse views of the role that courts can play in social change.


Topics and presenters are listed below.



  • “The Role of Courts in Social Changing: Looking Forward” by Mark Tushnet, the Carmack Waterhouse professor of constitutional law, Georgetown University Law Center. One of the most prolific legal scholars in the nation, he is the co-author of four casebooks, including the most widely used casebook on constitutional law, has written 14 books (including a two-volume work on the life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall) and has edited eight others. Tushnet clerked for Justice Marshall after graduating from Yale Law School. His most recent book is “A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law.”
  • “Sexual Orientation, Social Change and the Courts” by Jane Schacter, the Edwin A. Heafey Jr. visiting professor of law at Stanford Law School. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she served as assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. Schacter teaches in the areas of constitutional law, legislation, sexual orientation and the law and civil procedure. She has won numerous teaching awards and her articles have appeared in the Harvard, Yale, Stanford, New York University and Michigan law reviews among others. She is the James E. and Ruth B. Doyle-Bascom professor of law at the University of Wisconsin.
  • “Philosopher King Courts: Is the Exercise of Higher Law Authority Without a Higher Law Foundation Legitimate?" by John Eastman, professor of law, Chapman University School of Law and director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Claremont Institute. Chapman, who specializes in constitutional law, legal history and property, has a doctorate in government from the Claremont Graduate School and a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. Eastman has appeared as an expert legal commentator on numerous national television and radio programs including C-Span, Fox News and “The O’Reilly Factor.” He has a weekly segment on the nationally syndicated “Hugh Hewitt Show.”
  • “The Role of Social Change on the Courts” by Gerald Torres, the Bryant Smith chair in law at the University of Texas Law School. He is a former president of the Association of American Law Schools and a leading figure in critical race theory. He has served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and as counsel to then U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
  • “Courting Disaster: Looking for Change in All the Wrong Places” by Gerald Rosenberg, associate professor of political science and lecturer in law at the University of Chicago. Rosenberg is the author of the book “The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change.” He has taught at Yale University, Northwestern University School of Law and at the law school of Xiamen University in China as a Fulbright professor during the 2002-2003 academic year.


Registration is limited and costs $30 per person (free for law students), which covers the symposium and a continental breakfast. For an additional $10, attendees can receive a copy of the “Drake Law Review” issue that includes the symposium proceedings. The registration deadline is Monday, April 3.


For more information and registration, contact Ginnie Nevins at (515) 271-2988 or ginnie.nevins@drake.edu.