MSU Law Review Symposium responds to "The Will of The People"

Scholars from across the nation gathered at Michigan State University School of Law on April 8th and 9th to present reactions to Barry Friedman's book "The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution."

In his book, Friedman claims that for at least the past 60 years, the justices have bowed to the higher power of the American public when making their decisions. His account of the relationship between popular opinion and the Supreme Court--from the Declaration of Independence to the end of the Rehnquist court in 2005--illustrates how the American people came to accept their most controversial institution helped shaped the meaning of the Constitution.

The symposium brought together respected scholars of American constitutional history, law and politics, constitutional theory, and comparative constitutionalism to contribute essays and discuss their reactions to Friedman's book. Friedman, vice dean and professor at New York University School of Law and a constitutional lawyer who has litigated cases involving the death penalty, free speech, and abortion was well able to respond to the comments of each contributor as they sat around the table presenting their views.

The all day event was divided into five panels, covering the following:

-- American Constitutional History presented by William Novak, University of Michigan Law School and Edward A. Purcell, Jr. New York Law School

--Constitutional Theory presented by Neil S. Siegel, Duke University School of Law and Lawrence B. Solum, University of Illinois College of Law

--Comparative Constitutionalism, Clifford J. Carrubba, Emory University and Georg Vanberg, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

--Law and Politics I presented by Anna Harvey, New York University, Kevin T. McGuire, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

--Law and Politics II presented by Amanda Frost, American University Washington College of Law, Corinna Barrett Lain, University of Richmond School of Law and Glen Staszewski, Michigan State University College of Law

Clifford Carrubba calling his essay Musings on Federalism, Public Opinion and Judicial Authority, noted that the first question was 'Why create a court?' "Why would sovereign governments create a body and tell that body that it has the right to tell me that what I have done is not OK and therefore I should stop doing whatever it is I want to do?"

Carruba's answer was that the reason is 'we (the government) want to create some sort of regulatory system under which we will operate; that we know it is better to comply with the new laws, but some will not comply. The role of the court is to force people to comply, which is more efficient than a regulatory system. The court can facilitate a common regulatory regime.' The discussion that followed compared the US Supreme Court to the International court created when the European Union was created.

During the day, interested law students, law professors and others came to the symposium to listen to the discussions that interested them. Michigan State Law Review was founded in 1931 and is edited and published entirely by the students of MSU College of Law. It publishes four issues per year and sponsors symposia examining current legal topics.

Published: Thu, May 6, 2010