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‘NYTimes’ Writer Adam Liptak Talks Supreme Court

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 13:02

'NY Times' Writer Adam Liptak Talks Supreme Court

Alex Gaynor // Heights Editor

On Wednesday, New York Times reporter Adam Liptak gave a talk reflecting on his experience covering the United States Supreme Court. He also reviewed the upcoming controversial cases that will be addressed in the coming months. The event was sponsored by the Quality of Student Life Committee and was entitled “The Roberts Court in 2013: A Reporter’s Reflection.”
Liptak gave a brief background of the nine sitting justices of the Supreme Court, including facts related to their racial diversity, academic background, and religion.

“For the first time in history there are three women on the court,” Liptak said.  “The court has a black member, Justice Clarence Thomas, only the second black member of the Court … and Justice Sonia Sotomayor is, of course, the first Hispanic member.”
He mentioned that all nine justices attended either Harvard or Yale Law School, and that there are six Roman Catholic members and three Jewish members of the Court.

With this context, Liptak then conducted a thorough overview of the hot topics that will be addressed in the upcoming months in the court.  
“We’re going to have decisions this term in major, major cases on affirmative action in higher education admissions, in the future of the Voting Rights Act and in same-sex marriage,” Liptak said.

On the topic of affirmative action in higher-ed, Liptak talked about Fisher v. University of Texas, a case involving two white college applicants who were allegedly denied admission because of affirmative action admission policies.

“What the University of Texas does is admit about 75 percent of its students on what they call the Top Ten Program. All you have to do is graduate in the top 10 percent of any high school and you get into the University of Texas.” Liptak said. “And that, in Texas at least, generates very substantial diversity, because Texas high schools are largely segregated.”
The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the legality of this policy will help set the legal understanding of affirmative action going forward, and more generally, the attitude the Supreme Court has concerning race.

The second major issue confronting the Supreme Court is the future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in the case, Shelby County v. Holder.

“[The Voting Rights Act] is the most important legislative achievement of the civil rights era,” Liptak said. “People bled and died to make sure that there was a civil rights law that allowed blacks the freedom to vote in the South.”
Even though the Supreme Court has upheld the Voting Rights Act over the years, including its extensions, Liptak thinks that this time the outcome may be different. The issue is over the legality of Section V of the act, which requires federal approval of all state mandated changes of voting procedures. It was originally intended to protect the voting rights of African-American citizens in the South and it was only put into effect for certain states. Liptak thinks it is unlikely that the pre-existing “coverage formula” would be upheld, since the political landscape has changed so drastically.

The third hot issue is same-sex marriage. There are two cases in this issue—the first has to do with the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act and whether legal same-sex couples have the right to be federally recognized.

“The other same-sex marriage case is potentially much, much bigger, much more consequential, and much more interesting,”  Liptak said.

That case has to do with the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a law passed in California that stated, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Those opposing the law are trying to establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Before covering the Supreme Court, Liptak practiced law for 14 years, the last 10 of which were in-house in the New York Times Company’s legal department doing mostly First Amendment-related work. Liptak credits his law experience for providing him a solid foundation for effectively covering Supreme Court proceedings.

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