High Anxiety at the High Court

by Lyn Warmath

I was a fortunate recipient of a very generous grant from VALL this year. The grant enabled me to attend AALL’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, one of the best conferences I have attended. I am pleased to describe a session I attended at the meeting, the keynote address by Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor and legal correspondent at Slate Magazine, a columnist for Newsweek, a guest columnist for the op-ed page of The New York Times, co-author of a legal humor book, Me v. Everybody: Absurd Contracts for an Absurd World, and I Will Sing Life: Voices from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a book funded by the late Paul Newman about seven children from a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses.

In addition to her many writing skills, Lithwick is a compelling speaker and skillful observer of human nature. Lithwick described her observations of United States Supreme Court justices over the years and their evolving love/hate relationships with the press and the public. Although the justices rely on the media to talk to the public, Lithwick notes the justices go to great lengths to demonstrate they do not need the media, while obsessively following the press.

According to Lithwick, the justices’ anxieties have increased over the years as technology has transformed the speed with which free speech can turn into assault. Lithwick has observed the justices’ increasing anxieties about technologies that have blurred the lines between public speech and private speech and she concludes the justices are not adapting well or enjoying these lessons.

Lithwick sees a court in retreat because it mistrusts a press and public it cannot control. But at the same time she expresses hope that the justices will learn private places no longer exist, overcome their fears, roll in the cameras and provide much greater transparency.

If you missed Dahlia’s address or would like to hear it again, it is available at AALL’s web site.

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