Nine justices dressed in flowing black robes have generated unique perspectives on U.S. law for centuries. Students learned distinct traits of the current Supreme Court from a New York Times correspondent on Friday.
Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, transitioned his career from law to journalism and enlightened students on different aspects of Chief Justice Roberts’ court. Liptak addressed the changes in the diversity and decisions of Roberts’ court, the public’s perception of this branch and his personal experiences covering the justices.
Liptak addressed the history of the court and said he has seen positive and negative changes to its makeup from political ideologies to diversity. He said the increased representation of women and minorities has caused the court to incorporate different perspectives to their cases and these developments have overshadowed a change in the court’s religious affiliation.
“For the first time in American history there is not a single protestant on the court and the fact that there has not been much comment on it shows that we have moved past it,” Liptak said.
He also told students about the duties of the court and the never-ending battle the justices grapple with by applying the Constitution to modern times. They face questions on technology like surveillance equipment that is hard to align with the statutes contained in the Constitution.
Since covering Roberts’ court, Liptak enlightened students on the interesting twist in his career compared to other journalists. Often, his colleagues strive to develop relationships with people and plan to use those connections to obtain newsworthy stories. He said from that angle he is hardly a journalist. Instead, his job may have some encounters with the justices, but it rarely helps his work.
“I’m really an analyst, an explainer, someone on a tight deadline trying to convert complicated legal materials into, I hope, accessible newspaper articles of the times,” Liptak said. “That kind of access journalism is not what I do and while I’m friendly with all of the justices, the interactions I have with them don’t really inform my work at all.”
Liptak also gave his opinions about the prohibitions on photography in the courtroom. He said the court has a high approval rating over other branches of government and they do not want to jeopardize that. However, Liptak believes if the court did permit video recording or photography, this would only increase the public’s approval rather than threaten it.
“My own view is that if people saw just how smart, and able, and careful and in command of the facts of the law these public servants are, they would be delighted to see that there’s at least one branch of government that really does its own work,” he said. “I think it would increase the reputation of the court, not decrease it.”