Former New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse spoke with The Flat Hat about Sandra Day O’Connor, the allocation of federal power and her experience covering Bush v. Gore.
Tell me about your relationship with Sandra Day O’Connor.
I’ve had the chance to see her a number of times since she retired. I’ve been on a couple of panels in programs that she put together at Georgetown Law School and her project to clean up the system for selecting state court judges that she’s really devoted herself to. I feel privileged that I’ve known her because I think she’s really the genuine article. She’s a terrific servant of the public, really, and she’s using her premature retirement to really try to make a difference in American civic life, and that’s very commendable.
Do you think it’s likely that Justice John Paul Stevens will retire at the end of this term?
Yeah, I think it’s highly likely. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t.
What about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has had some health problems and subsequent rumors about her own retirement?
She’s fine. I had dinner with her last week. You can’t believe a lot of rumors you hear about the court. She’s not retiring, and she’s not sick.
Does she plan on retiring in the next few years?
She’s certainly not planning to retire this year, and I haven’t asked her what her long-term plans are. But people make assumptions about her that are not justified.
What sort of landmark decisions do you think will be coming to the court in the next few years?
I think, as I’ve said … we’re going to see a revival of interest in questions about federal authority vis-à-vis the states [and] congressional authority vis-à-vis other branches of government. These structural issues about the organization, about the allocation of power within the American government that keep recurring since the beginning of the country’s history, I think we’re in a phase where they’ll come back to the court.
Gay marriage is a hot-button issue, and although you said the court is handling more structural issues, the Proposition 8 trial is ongoing. Do you think this will be an issue before the Supreme Court in coming years?
Well, of course, that’s up to the court, and I think that may depend on how the lower courts eventually rule in the Prop. 8 case. After this trial, and after Judge [Vaughn] Walker makes a decision, [it] goes to the Ninth Circuit, so it doesn’t go directly to the Supreme Court. You know, it takes four votes to grant a case at the Supreme Court, and whether four justices will be inclined to get into this, I think, depends on where the law is left after the Ninth Circuit gets finished with it. So, I think it’s hard to predict.
You covered the Supreme Court for 30 years. What are some of your favorite moments?
Well, I don’t know, favorite moment — you know — certainly a gripping moment was the 2000 election case.
Bush v. Gore?
Bush against Gore. It was probably the most unusual few days in my 30 years at the court. Very gripping.
The court granted the case on a Saturday, briefs were due on Sunday, the argument was on Monday and the decision was on Tuesday. So everything that usually takes months, if not like a year, was compressed into those few hours, and it was extremely intense and high-stakes. Nobody slept and nobody did anything else but just try to watch that and live through that. For sheer intensity and drama, it would be hard to top that.
What’s a case that you would like to see the court take on?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure there are issues I wish they would get into. Whether I would be confident they would decide them the right way, I don’t know. So, I think I’ll take a pass on that one.
What are your feelings on Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is in the midst of her first term?
Well, she’s only written two opinions so far. So, you know, her service on the court is really a work in progress, but she’s very smart and very prepared and I’ve seen her in oral argument and she asks really good questions, and so I think she’s a very highly functioning member of the group.
Click here to read about a forum with Linda Greenhouse held on campus.