Garrett Epps

Garrett Epps is Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore. He covers the Supreme Court for theatlantic.comHis book, American Epic: Reading the US Constitution was published in August 2013 by Oxford University Press.

Recent Articles

Sonia Sotomayor's Radical Judicial Activism

(Sesame Street)
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill requiring TV access to Supreme Court arguments. Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t waiting: She made her debut on Sesame Street this week. Though she and Maria were just trying to enjoy “un cafecito,” they were interrupted by Baby Bear, who demanded a judgment in his case against Goldie Locks, who had (as the record has long reflected) broken his tiny chair during a most flagrant trespass quare clausum fregit . Sotomayor listened to the twin arguments and suggested that Goldilocks take her personal glue, fix the chair, and “then the two of you can live happily ever after.” Now this is all very well, but what sort of example does it set for the young? Isn’t it the worst sort of unprincipled activism? Why did she not turn to the wisdom of the Founders? Not long ago I was sternly lectured by Professor Michael Ramsey of the University of San Diego for an irreverent post about Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in United States v. Jones...

In Prop. 8 Ruling, a Liberal Lion Coos

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool) Senior Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, left, Circuit Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, center, and Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith hear arguments during a hearing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Today, the federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld a lower-court decision finding California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. S tephen Reinhardt, a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,* has been called almost everything in the book. Conservatives slaver at the mention of his name; even liberals sometimes criticize his audacity. The Onion once ran a deadpan story reporting that he had “ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional ... ‘[i]n accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation.’” The last great liberal lion of a once-numerous pride, Reinhardt has written dozens of decisions that embody old-style judicial liberalism (including one holding that terminally ill individuals have a right to...

The Constitution: A Love Story

It's time for liberals to reclaim our founding document from fanatics who worship its name but not its meaning.

When the 112th House of Representatives opened this past January with a reading of the United States Constitution, the intended political message was clear—the Republican Party was back to rescue the Constitution. Less clear was what Constitution Republicans were vowing to save. The version they ordered read was, in fact, stripped of language the leadership considered “superseded by amendment,” even though those measures are still in the text. Some are embarrassing. The provisions protecting slavery, for example, call into question the infallibility of the Founding Fathers. Since one of the standard conservative talking points is that the “original intent” of the framers is an infallible guide to wisdom, the fallible parts were better left unmentioned. As a matter of fact, the new majority was more eager to amend the Constitution than to read it. The reading of the censored Constitution actually took place on the second day of the House session. The leadership found time on the first...

Beware: Judges With a Vision

The Supreme Court's historic role has been to slow, not accelerate, social reform.

In 1940, a small group of children, bullied by intolerant adults, sought the protection of the United States Supreme Court. The nation's highest court spat in their faces. The results were so violent and tragic that the Court reversed itself three years later, trying to call a halt to the injustice it had spawned. This story--the story of Minersville School District v. Gobitis and West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette-- still teaches lessons today about the quality of justice, the character of judges, and the role of courts in spurring, or retarding, social change. The issue was simple but explosive: Could school authorities require all children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag, even if their religious beliefs forbade it? The children at risk were Jehovah's Witnesses; the head of their faith had declared that saluting the flag was idolatry, a violation of the Second Commandment's injunction not to worship "graven images." Thousands of Witnesses in...

Unlawful Entry

Ask the average TV writer what word he associates with "evil" and the answer is likely not to be "Milosevic" or "Enron" but "private law firm." TV writers don't really know what goes on in the plush offices of big firms, but they know it's bad. No less a cultural indicator than acclaimed scriptwriter Joss Whedon, seeking the focus of evil in Los Angeles for his heroic-vampire drama Angel , created a megafirm called Wolfram and Hart, with lawyers so vicious that their clients -- werewolves, demons and assorted soul-stealers -- were afraid to be alone with them. So it's no surprise that something is really, really rotten in the venerable Washington firm of Lyon, LaCrosse and Levine, the fictional setting for NBC's new Sunday-night drama, The Lyon's Den . Managing partner Dan Barrington, a former ethics professor at Yale Law School, has committed suicide after the securities-fraud indictment of a major client. Now senior partner Terrence Christianson (James Pickens Jr.) needs a new...

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