Experts to discuss future of high court


LENOX — The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh earlier this month, and the heated process leading up to it, prompted chatter in Berkshire County coffee shops, offices and even laundromats about the nation's highest court and the power it wields.

On Thursday, two legal experts — Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times and retired Supreme Judicial Court Judge Francis X. Spina — will talk about the future of the Supreme Court and justice as a part of The Berkshire Eagle's ongoing "Conversation Series."

"The new buzzword I'm hearing these days is 'tribalism,' " said Fredric Rutberg, president and publisher of The Berkshire Eagle, referring to the politically polarized culture. "Democracy can't work in that kind of tribalistic fashion, so if we're going down that path — I'm not saying we're there yet — we've got to find a way to come back to a more civil, or more effective way to communicate. And this is one way."

Rutberg, a retired District Court judge, will moderate the discussion between Greenhouse and Spina at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. Audience members will be able to submit written questions to the speakers.

Rutberg said it isn't uncommon for those who are appointed to the Supreme Court to become politically moderate over time. Some are hoping that Kavanaugh will maintain his strong conservative beliefs on the bench to assist in overturning decisions like Roe v. Wade, he said.

"They wanted a reliable conservative, and now it looks like they have one, but what's going to happen? Is [the court] going to take a wrecking ball to some of these decisions?" Rutberg asked. "We've got two really interesting people talking about this. We're bringing different perspectives, but really interesting perspectives."

Greenhouse, who has a home in Stockbridge, is Yale Law School's Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Lecturer in Law. She covered the Supreme Court for The New York Times for nearly 30 of her 40 years with the paper and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her coverage of the court.

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She has written several books, including 2017's "Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between," and continues to write a column for The Times. She is on The Eagle's Advisory Board.

Spina, of Richmond, served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in Massachusetts, for 17 years until his retirement in 2016. Earlier in his career, he served on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and on the Superior Court. He also worked as an assistant city solicitor in Pittsfield, a second assistant district attorney in Berkshire County, and a partner in a private law practice.

For legal minds, the workings of the Supreme Court have always been intriguing. Rutberg said he's spent hours in line to catch only a few minutes of an oral argument.

The recent controversy and widely televised testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, one of three women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, has sparked even wider interest in the court from the general public.

"I look forward to a very lively discussion about the inner workings about appellate courts," Spina said. "It's not something most people are aware of. They don't make TV shows about how appellate courts work.

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Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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