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Choper Lectures on Supreme Court Justices

SEPT. 5, 2008—On Wednesday, Dean David Wippman welcomed Jesse H. Choper, a widely recognized constitutional law scholar and distinguished teacher, back to the University of Minnesota Law School after more than a 40-year absence. Choper, now Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California Berkeley's Boalt Hall, taught at the Law School from 1961-65 and commented, “I have only the warmest recollections of my days here.”

Choper delivered a lecture entitled "Liberal and Conservative Supreme Court Justices—What Difference Does it Really Make and What Does it Bode for the Future?" The lecture, open to the public, attracted a full house of faculty, staff, alumni, students, and others.

He offered a “quick-and-dirty” definition of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” when applied to Constitutional decision-making. In general, he said, liberals lean toward upholding individual rights (except economic ones), federal power, and limitation of executive power, whereas conservatives tend toward upholding governmental, states’ rights, and executive power.

Beyond these differences, each Supreme Court Justice makes decisions based on judicial restraint (deference to legislative and democratic system), ideology (values and point of view developed over years of experience), and “original understanding” (interpretation of the Constitution according to the text and what the framers intended), Choper explained.

He discussed previous, current, and future Supreme Courts in terms of liberal vs. conservative makeup, the impact of a “swing” voter, and struggles over difficult issues. On questions involving the framers’ intent, for example, Choper said of all Justices, past and present: “Everyone pays obeisance to this notion of original understanding. But there’s clearly no universal agreement of how much you pay attention to it.”

The lecture was made possible by the Jim ('65) and Sharon Hale Excellence in Legal Education Fund, created through an unrestricted gift from the Hales. A Class of 1965 mini-reunion, with photos and luncheon, followed the lecture.


Photo of Jesse Choper
Scholar Jesse Choper delivers his lecture on the political leanings of Supreme Court Justices.


Photo of a group of alumni
Jesse Choper and Dean Wippman stand with some of the Law School Alumni from the 1960s.