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Constitution Day Lecture 2023: The Constitution and the Court

Deborah Pearlstein, SPIA

September 18, 2023 · 7:00 pm8:30 pm · Bowl 16, Robertson Hall

Princeton University Public Lectures

Constitution Day Lecture 2023

The idea that the Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means is, in important respects, hard-wired in the contemporary American psyche.  It did not have to be this way.  Indeed, a fair measure of constitutional scholarship over the past two centuries has been occupied by professorial debates over whether or not it should.  Today, for the first time in more than half a century, a deeply controversial Court has led a fair measure of Americans to begin asking the same question. But the reasons for the Court’s plummeting status in broad polls of public confidence – the reasons why a growing number of Americans now question its legitimacy – could be many.  Which if any of those reasons might justify the conviction that it is time to rethink the Court’s effective monopoly on constitutional meaning? The answer depends on what we think a court’s job is – what a judge’s or even a lawyer’s job is – in the first place. It depends on what we can reasonably expect of the rule of law, and of the Constitution as a part of it.

Deborah Pearlstein is director of Princeton’s new Program in Law and Public Policy and is the Charles and Marie Robertson Visiting Professor in Law and Public Affairs. She is currently Professor of Law and Co-director of the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, and teaches a course each year in law and public policy.

Deborah holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School. After earning her law degree, she clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court, worked in private practice, and served as the founding director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First. Following her departure from practice, Deborah was appointed a research scholar in law and public affairs at SPIA, a position she held for four years, until joining Cardozo Law as an assistant professor of law in 2011. Her work on the U.S. Constitution, international law, and national security has appeared widely in law journals and the popular press, where she is quoted often as an expert source, and has repeatedly been the subject of her testimony before Congress. Before entering law school, she served as senior editor and speechwriter in the White House to President Clinton. Today, she serves on the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, focused on ensuring the timely declassification and publication of government records surrounding major events in U.S. foreign policy.

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