Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Jan Greenburg and the "Supreme Conflict"

By Winnie

Jan Crawford Greenburg, an experienced Supreme Court watcher, and the senior legal correspondent for ABC News in Washington has produced another chronicle-analysis of the court in her eloquent book, subtitled "The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court;” by far the most illuminating account to date of the political and ideological forces that has shaped the current court.

Relying on personal interviews with justices, White House insiders and others, Greenburg discusses how high court decisions have moved in the past 20 years, starting with the appointment of Justice Anthony Kennedy and proceeding through personnel changes on the court and in the executive branch. She also provides a rich account of the birth of today's conservative court led by Chief Justice John Roberts, a court, as she notes in her book that “will be shaping the direction of American law and culture long after many of us are dead.”

Introduced by our moderator James Warren, the Managing Editor for the Tribune, Jan Crawford Greenburg at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, briefly highlights the Supreme Court’s undertakings currently. She primarily talks about executive power and how the court has gotten involved in President’s Bush war making powers. She asserts that in the last four years, the Court has gradually chipped away President Bush policies on detainees in Guantanamo Bay; ruling in a case on detainee rights, that the President could not suspend Habeas Corpus because he did not have the sweeping authority to do so. A good lead in to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the crucial swing vote Justice in the new court, like that played by Justice O’Connor, Greenburg notes. She states that in determining Presidential power cases, Justice Kennedy holds the deciding vote and will most likely vote with the liberals.

then raises the question, “Is this a Kennedy Court?” Greenburg answers, stating that yes, it is a Kennedy Court, and that in twenty cases decided on the court, in a closely divided case, the result was usually 5-4, with Kennedy voting with the majority. She notes that Kennedy definitely has a more grandiose vision of his role in the court than most of the conservative justices. She asserts that he sees the court as much more active unlike Alito, Thomas and Scalia. Greenburg

then talks in detail about Justice O’ Connor, a pivotal figure on the bench… “As Justice O’ Connor went so did the court,” Greenburg declares. She talks about O’Connor’s nomination by President Reagan, and her unexpected retirement before Chief Justice Rehnquist. Greenburg notes that O’Connor’s retirement bestowed President Bush’s with his first Supreme Court Justice nominee. She states that George Bush succeeded where all those past Republican presidents failed because his nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, are solid, judicial conservatives; and they're not going to drift to the left like some of the Justices have after they've been nominated.

James Warren then questioned Jan Greenburg on the status of the court with only one female Justice, Justice Ginsburg, on the bench. Greenburg asserts that although Justice Ginsburg is frail and very small in statues, she is very big in her ideas, and very big in her opinions and questions and quite a force on the bench. Jan Crawford Greenburg then speaks to personal experience and how the justices cant help but personalize a court decision through their own personal experiences. She gives the example of a Fourth Amendment Case and a discrimination case in which O’Connor and Ginsburg both in making their decisions personalized the cases using their experiences as women.

moves on to the two new Justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. She mentions how the liberal justices had the notion Roberts would be cooperative and willing to compromise in certain cases but that would not be the case; Justice Roberts was in his first term, extremely conservative. She briefly talks about Alito and his quiet, observant personality on the court in his first term. She implies that Justice Alito might be the Justice to bring Justice Kennedy over to the conservative side.

concludes the discussion on Clarence Thomas, who joined the Supreme Court in 1991, replacing the great liberal icon, Thurgood Marshall, and is clearly the most conservative Justice in the Supreme Court currently. She talks about the story line that Thomas was a puppet of Anotnin Scalia that he was walking in Scalia's shoes. Totally false. Greenburg notes that Thomas came on the court and, from his first week he was on the court, he had these strong, clear, conservative views. That year, if any Justice changed their vote that year, it was Scalia changing his vote to join Thomas.

Greenburg ends the discussion stating that the two new members through chance and good timing will be in a position to achieve what other conservatives before them could never accomplish. She asserts that because their styles are less caustic and "bold" than those of conservative judicial icons like Scalia and Bork, Roberts and Alito will be in an unprecedented position to "build alliances and working majorities." That assertion, is one that history will have to judge. In the meantime, As Gormley states, “Greenburg's window into the genesis of the current Supreme Court, shaped dramatically by the Bush administration, is the sort of rich, balanced account that will add immeasurably to the historical record.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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