Defining a Dialogue

Christina Kelso

Photo courtesy of Tina Kelso

Reflecting on her experiences reporting on the U.S. Supreme Court and its justices for 29 years as part of the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse discussed the relationship between decisions made by judges of the Supreme Court and the influence of public opinion.

In a sea of bright, attentive eyes and ready notepads, pre-law students from throughout the northeast Florida area gathered in the University of North Florida’s Lazzara Performance Hall on Thursday, Oct. 13 for an “Evening with Linda Greenhouse.”  As part of an ongoing speaker series, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and Journalist-in-Residence at Yale Law School conducted a public lecture entitled, “The Supreme Court and the Public: An Imperfect Dialogue.”

“How do judges know what they know or think they know?” said Greenhouse.

To tackle this question, she presented a specific selection of cases which represented the rift between public consensuses on controversial issues and what the United States Supreme Court believes the public wants. The main example weaved throughout the speech was the social influence and “wind of the public mood” that surrounded the court decision of Roe v. Wade. Other controversial issues such as the death penalty were also fixed as examples.

Immediately following the conclusion of the speech, Greenhouse stood for a question-and-answer session with the audience. On a voluntary basis several audience members raised their hands. By taking the microphone they grasped a chance to speak, voicing questions and giving a public perspective on a myriad of social and political issues.

The questions presented by the audience examined Greenhouse’s opinion on frequently debated political standpoints.  These included life tenure of the Supreme Court, same sex marriage, illegal immigration and the 2000 court decision in Bush v. Gore.

While it was evident that the individuals comprising the audience represented diverse opinions towards each subject brought to the floor, the atmosphere remained one of calm divergence.  After the final question was commented on and the student’s notebooks and pens began to close, the air of discussion remained.

A line of individuals lingered after the speech, talking to Greenhouse individually, shaking hands and thanking her for her time. Simultaneously, clustered groups of individuals fixed themselves throughout the performance hall. Prolonging trips to their cars with a soft whirr of conversation, the room filled with an exchange of sentiments and perspective.

This experience, open to the general public as well as students and faculty, was interweaved as the main part of UNF’s annual Pre-Law Day event. Through a showcase of various law schools and the presentation of a prominent speaker, this annual event endeavors to inform students about the career path and inspire them to get involved.