The Supreme Court of the United States, Jesuit education and Creighton University all earned praise Nov. 18 during a panel discussion on the future of the high court.
The Zoom discussion, sponsored by the Creighton University School of Law, was titled “Stability to Uncertainty at the U.S. Supreme Court” and featured former Nebraska governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, and John Sexton, president emeritus of New York University.
Moderated by former CNN anchor Mary Alice Williams, BA’71, the forum scanned the history of the Supreme Court from the 1803 case of Marbury vs. Madison that established the principle of judicial review, to Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 that outlawed racial discrimination in public schools, to NAACP vs. Alabama in 1958 that protected the right of free association.
Both Kerrey and Sexton voiced confidence that the current court will act rationally, as its conservative members, with the arrival of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, exercise a 6-3 majority.
“The court is to think critically and make a clear decision, and I think all of them will,” said Kerrey. “They may reach conclusions that are different from those I would reach, but I don’t expect that any of the nine people on the court are going to behave in a fashion that causes me to say they’re not thinking right, that they’re not analyzing the issues correctly.”
Sexton prefaced his remarks by praising the quality of his Jesuit education at Brooklyn (NY) Preparatory School and then at Fordham University, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as a doctorate.
“First, I have to say how pleased I am to be at Creighton,” Sexton said. “I have admired Creighton. My provost for 14 years at NYU, Dave McLaughlin, BSPHY’66, was a Creighton graduate.
“I have said even during my time as president of NYU that the greatest educators in the world — and the real architects of what NYU became known for, which is becoming a global network university — the first global network was Jesuit education, and I say that as someone who is a graduate of the greatest high school that ever existed, a Jesuit high school in Brooklyn.”
Sexton, who once clerked for Warren E. Burger, the 15th chief justice of the Supreme Court, named several Republican-appointed justices of recent decades, all of whom, he said, strove to deliver considered justice.
“As for what Judge Barrett is going to do, I don’t know,” he said. “Is she a David Souter? Is she a William Brennan, who was appointed by a Republican? Is she an Earl Warren, who was appointed by a Republican?
“Sandra O’Connor was appointed by a Republican. As Bob says, you could agree or disagree with them, but I will go to my grave saying that Sandra Day O’Connor played the game honestly. You might not have agreed with every one of her decisions, but she played the game honestly.”
Despite his confidence that the court will rule impartially, Kerrey warned of an increasing partisanship that he said is damaging America’s political health.
“When I was in the Senate in the 1990s, I could identify a Republican and not know if they were an environmentalist, whether they supported reproductive rights, gun control or civil rights,” he said. “It was much harder to know then, based upon political party, than it is today.
“I was there when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated to the court,” he said. “There were a couple of women’s groups who opposed her because she thought Roe vs. Wade was improperly argued and improperly concluded, that it should have been more narrowly drawn.
“If somebody like that was nominated today, and you had a Democratic majority, she might not be confirmed — because of the polarization, because of the unacceptability of even a modest dissent on a particular issue. And that’s a big problem for the Congress, because it makes it very difficult to find compromise on contentious issues. The left tends to be unforgiving, the right tends to be unforgiving, and there’s no middle ground.”
Senator Bob Kerrey
He is Managing Director of Allen and Company and Executive Chairman of the Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship. From 2001 to 2011, Senator Kerry was President of The New School.
During his tenure, The New School experienced unprecedented growth in enrollment, faculty, scholarships, capital projects, research, and international engagement.
Prior to his work in higher education, Senator Kerrey served one term as Nebraska’s Governor and represented the state in the Senate from 1989 to 2001.
His public service since leaving the Senate includes appointments on the 9/11 Commission and the advisory board of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association. Senator Kerrey served as a U.S. Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War, was wounded, permanently disabled, and received the Medal of Honor.
Dr. John Sexton
Dr. Sexton is President Emeritus of New York University and the Benjamin Butler Professor of Law. He became NYU president in 2001 and served in that capacity for 15 years. Prior to that he served as dean of NYU School of Law for 14 years.
Dr. Sexton has an extensive history in public policy. He has served as:
- Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
- Chair of the Federal Reserve Systems Council of Chairs
- A board member of the National Association of Securities Dealers, and
- The Founding Chair of the Board of NASD Dispute Resolution.
He is also a prolific writer and the author of Redefining the Supreme Court’s Role: A Theory of Managing the Federal Court System.
Dr. Sexton clerked for Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court and for Judges David Bazelon and Harold Leventhal of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Mary Alice Williams, BA’71
She is an award-winning broadcast journalist, public policy expert, author and educator, whose investigative work on topics including health, ethics, and technology have made her a recognized voice for public information.
Mary Alice rose to national prominence as one of the founding architects and anchors of CNN. Later, she became the first woman to win a national Emmy Award for anchoring the NBC Nightly News.
For the past six years, she has anchored NJTV News on New Jersey’s public television network. She is a member of the faculty of the State University of New York.