Talk to focus on changing attitude of Supreme Court

Stanford law professor to discuss high court's recent decisions, how they are shaped by apparent disdain for politics

Stanford Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan will discuss the Supreme Court's attitude towards the other branches of government and the political process at The Johns Hopkins University's 2012 Constitutional Forum, held in conjunction with the annual observance of Constitution Day.

Karlan's talk, "Democracy and Disdain," will focus on one of the fundamental issues facing our constitutional system, as captured by Alexander Bickel's phrase "the countermajoritarian difficulty:" When should an unelected Supreme Court overturn laws and policies adopted by the democratically elected branches of government? One classic answer is that courts should intervene to make sure that the political process remains open, out of respect for the Constitution. But the Supreme Court has recently exhibited a striking disdain for politics and for the political branches' competence to resolve difficult policy questions. Karlan's talk will focus on how the Supreme Court's changing attitude towards politics shaped some of the court's recent decisions.

The forum will take place at 8 p.m. Thursday in Mason Hall Auditorium, on the Homewood campus. Admission is free. Visitor parking is available in the South Garage; for more information, the general public may call 443-287-9960.

In addition to being a productive scholar and award-winning teacher at Stanford Law School, Karlan also co-directs the school's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, where students have the rare opportunity to litigate live cases and represent real clients before the Supreme Court. One of the nation's leading experts on voting and the political process, Karlan has served as a commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission and an assistant counsel and cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She is co-author of three leading casebooks on constitutional law, constitutional litigation and the law of democracy, as well as more than 60 scholarly articles. Before joining the faculty at Stanford in 1998, Karlan was a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law and served as a law clerk to Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the Supreme Court and Judge Abraham D. Sofaer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute and serves as a member of the board of directors for the American Constitution Society.

The 2012 Constitutional Forum is supported by the George Huntington Williams Memorial Lectureship, established to honor the memory of George Huntington Williams, a pioneer in the microscopic study of rocks and minerals. He was the university's first professor of petrology and founded what was then called the Department of Geology (now Earth and Planetary Sciences) in the late 1880s. In 1917, his family created an endowment in his memory for lectures by distinguished public figures on topics of widespread contemporary interest. Past speakers have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Karlan's talk celebrates Constitution Day, Sept. 17, the day in 1787 when delegates convened for the final time to sign the U.S. Constitution. Additional information about Constitution Day may be found by searching the website of The National Archives and by visiting the website of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

The 2012 Constitutional Forum at Johns Hopkins is sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Department of Political Science and the Office of Communications.