LISTEN LIVE: The New Yorker Radio Hour

Advertisement

Is the Supreme Court too political? A look at the court's ideology47:23
Download

Play
Seated from left: Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, standing from left: Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett pose during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/AFP via Getty Images)
Seated from left: Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, standing from left: Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett pose during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/AFP via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court is supposed to rule by the law alone. But Harvard’s Randall Kennedy says that doesn't always happen.

“A very common misconception is that the Supreme Court is above politics," he says. "With all the marble palace and the robes and the funny words and all of that, beneath all of that is a political struggle.”

So let's stop pretending that the court is a magisterial, impartial arbiter of the law. The law, Kennedy says, is a distillation of our politics.

Top ACLU lawer David Cole disagrees.

“It's too simple to say that the court is just political," Cole says. "Judges take an oath and it is part of their legitimacy that they decide questions not simply by resort to political, partisan judgments.

Today, On Point: Has the Supreme Court always been political?

Guests

Randall Kennedy, law professor at Harvard University. Author of “Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History, and Culture."

David Cole, national legal director for the ACLU. Professor at Georgetown University's Law Center. (@DavidColeACLU)

Also Featured

Miriam Seifter, professor of law at the University of Wisconsin. (@MiriamSeifter)

Book Excerpt

From SAY IT LOUD!: On Race, Law, History, and Culture by Randall Kennedy. Reprinted by permission of Pantheon Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Randall Kennedy

This program aired on October 13, 2021.

Related:

Stefano Kotsonis Senior Producer, On Point
Stefano Kotsonis is a senior producer for WBUR's On Point.

More…

Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.

More…

Advertisement

Advertisement

/00:00
Close