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Session Summary: SCOTUS, Post-RBG

Submitted by Corinna Barrett Lain

If you weren’t one of the five or so people who attended our panel on RBG this Thursday afternoon from 1-2:45, you missed out on a wonderful discussion of all things RBG.

Professor Mike Dimino (Widener) served as moderator and quickly made the decision to not have panelists provide prepared remarks, but rather to have a series of shorter discussions teed up by questions that he’d pose to the group. It was a brilliant move. The panel was much more conversational, interesting, and interactive as a result.

The panelists were Merritt McAlister (University of Florida), Andy Siegel (Seattle), and Corinna Lain (Richmond). Turns out, Mike, Merritt, and Andy were either former Supreme Court clerks or interns, so Corinna just tried to keep up. (The group welcomed her with open arms and she learned a ton from their stories and insights).

Mike first asked the panel about RBG as a cultural icon, and the panel talked about that some, with Merritt sharing some stories about the various ways that RBG came to embrace her role as the Notorious RBG, Mike noting the irony that in many ways RBG was more of an incrementalist than the lion of the left, and Corinna picking up on that theme to talk about the various ways that RBG’s incrementalist approach as a cause lawyer affected the way she thought about legal change and developed her jurisprudence. Andy then riffed on that theme, discussing several of RBG’s cases (in particular the VMI decision) and how those decisions illustrated the points that other panelists had made.

It’s actually rather difficult to map where the panel went from there, but that is just a testament to the wonderful conversation we had about RBG and others on the Supreme Court, and what a terrific job Mike did at keeping the conversation moving with provocative questions that generated lively discussion. We talked about RBG’s relationship with other Justices (in particular, Scalia, of course, but also other women who joined the bench after her). We talked about who is now leading the left wing of the Court, and what it means to be the “leader” of the left. We talked about Amy Coney Barrett, and the vast ideological swing that her confirmation brought to the Court. And we talked about various ideological alignments and splinters in the current conservative block—and how our right-leaning Court is at odds with our left leaning public, and what changes that might bring.

The time flew by, and although we were mainly just talking amongst ourselves, it was a vibrant, intelligent, and interesting discussion that is the epitome of what SEALS is all about—connecting with other scholars, generating ideas, and having a great time.