May 9, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 17

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    Sunstein: Is Supreme Court best judge?

    In today's hot debates on the right to die, affirmative action and homosexuality, is the Supreme Court the best judge?

    Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, says the controversial 1857 Dred Scott decision legitimizing slavery "demonstrates that the Supreme Court should avoid political thickets and leave 'Great Questions' to politics, because the court may answer incorrectly and make things worse."

    Sunstein will present this year's Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecture, "Constitutional Myth-making: Lessons From the Dred Scott Case," at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 14, in Max Palevsky Cinema. The lecture is free and open to the public.

    "Dred Scott was probably the most important case in the Supreme Court's history -- probably the most important constitutional case in any nation's history," Sunstein said. "But we have little if any sense of what it means or was even about -- and we have much to learn from it as we face today's issues."

    One lesson for today, Sunstein said, is that courts should not invalidate affirmative action. "The recent University of Texas case [in which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down its law school's race-based admissions system], like Dred Scott, was an effort to remove a big issue of principle from politics," Sunstein said. "With issues like affirmative action, homosexuality and the right to die, the courts should proceed cautiously, incrementally, and consider only specific facts. It should catalyze the political process, not pre-empt it."

    In addition to his Law School appointment, Sunstein is Professor in Political Science and the College and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutionalism in Eastern Europe at the Law School. His areas of expertise include administrative law, environmental law, welfare law, jurisprudence and constitutional law.

    The Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecture was established in 1972 by the Board of Trustees to give distinguished members of the faculty an opportunity to speak to the University community about their life and work.