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The US Supreme Court: Still the Least Dangerous Branch?

Professor Timothy Johnson will present at UMN Headliners on October 10th
September 11, 2019

The Founding Fathers considered the US Supreme Court to be the weakest of the three branches of government since, as Alexander Hamilton noted, it held “neither sword nor purse strings.”

Yet while a US president may remain in office for two terms or a maximum of eight years, they are also able to influence public policy for decades to follow through appointments to the US Supreme Court. Indeed, justices serve until they retire, die, or are impeached. The average tenure of a justice is 15 years, though many serve longer.

For example, Chief Justice John Marshall, appointed by Thomas Jefferson in 1801, served a record 34 years. The longest serving current justice is Clarence Thomas, who has been on the Court since 1991.

As justices hold their decades-long tenures, the Supreme Court has arguably become the most powerful branch of government, deciding on hot-button issues such as abortion rights, gerrymandering, voting rights, and freedom of speech. Keep in mind: once the justices make a decision, it is very difficult for Congress to overturn that decision.

Join us October 10, when nationally recognized Supreme Court scholar Dr. Timothy R. Johnson will discuss his insights about how the Court decides, how the justices interact with one another, and what this means for the 2019 term (which, in keeping with tradition, begins on the first Monday in October: October 7).

Timothy R. Johnson is Morse-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Minnesota and a nationally recognized expert on US Supreme Court oral arguments and decision-making. The former coeditor of Law and Society Review, he is the author or coauthor of four books, and provides commentary frequently for The EconomistThe Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, National Public Radio, and WCCO, KARE, KSTP, and KMPS, among other venues. Johnson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2018 American Political Science Association's Distinguished Teaching Award.

Learn more about Professor Johnson and purchase tickets.