Jeffrey Toobin speech, March 24, 2010
Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst and staff writer for The New Yorker, met with UT Arlington faculty before appearing March 24 as the last speaker in the 2010 Maverick Speakers Series. Toobin predicted that the next member of the U.S. Supreme Court will be Elena Kagan, the sitting U.S. Solicitor General. Toobin's lecture was given in conjunction with the Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students, or ACES, symposium.
Toobin's best-selling novel, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, spent more than four months on The New York Times bestseller list and has won several awards.
Kagan would likely win Senate confirmation, Toobin said, because she hasn't served as a state or federal judge and is a blank slate as far as rulings are concerned. Justice John Paul Stevens is set to retire at the end of the Supreme Court's current session.
Here is a sampling of what Toobin said on the issues:
On how the Supreme Court justices perceive themselves: "I think they try to be nonpartisan in their views... I don't think that if Obama appoints one, he or she will think that I've got to vote like Obama. But we all come from different backgrounds. They have certain judicial points of view. That isn't a criticism, it's a realism."
His favorite Supreme Court justice: "David Souter is my favorite because whatever else he is, he's weird." Toobin said Souter has no cell phone, no computer and doesn't even like electric lights. He said Souter has arranged his office to take advantage of natural sunlight by sliding his chair around the room.
On how the Supreme Court has shifted to the right: Toobin said it started when President Nixon was able to appoint five justices to the high court. The shift culminated when Chief Justice William Rehnquist resigned due to illness and President George W. Bush appointed John Roberts as Rehnquist's successor. Justice Sandra O'Connor resigned and Bush appointed Sam Alito as her replacement.
On the tone of political discourse in the United States: "I am not worried about it. The politics in this country have always been very, very rough." Toobin noted the period during the 1940s to 1970s when people might have been more like-minded. But that era had controversies as well, such as McCarthyism and the battle for Civil Rights.
On the polarizing tendencies of the mass media: "During the last 50 years, the public image of major news outlets as being nonpartisan has changed. The days of Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley are gone." He said Rupert Murdock's purchase of Fox brought more of a British air to the United States. He said that British touch in media is more sensational and opinionated. He said no one would question that Fox News and MSNBC have become polar opposites on the political side of reporting. He said CNN is trying to reach that middle ground, but Fox and MSNBC have gotten better viewer ratings more recently.
On the Tea Party political phenomena: "I don't think the Republican Party is going to go away. I think the Tea Party movement probably will." Toobin said the Tea Party is hard to define. Those who identify with the movement aren't focused on social issues, such as abortion. "I think the Tea Party is a perfect example of political unrest." Third parties, like Ross Perot's efforts, don't survive, he noted.
On the Republican Party: "There used to be a handful of moderate Republicans in Congress. I think they've been driven out of the party. Now, it's a party of the South and West." Toobin said he believes Obama wanted support from the Republicans for health care but it just didn't happen.
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