Law school dean to the Supreme Court: This love affair is over

After nearly four decades as a lawyer and 30 years teaching would-be lawyers, and after writing a leading textbook on constitutional law and helping establish a law school, and after standing before the justices five times on behalf of his clients, Erwin Chemerinsky has fallen out of love with the Supreme Court.


Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006. View Archive

His break-up note runs for 342 pages and is called “The Case Against the Supreme Court.” The book makes its regretful message clear at the very beginning:

“We should realize that this is an emperor that truly has no clothes. For too long, we have treated the Court is if they are the high priests of the law, or at least as if they are the smartest and best lawyers in society.”

His conclusion? “The court has frequently failed, throughout American history, at its most important tasks, at its most important moments. This is not easy for me to conclude or to say.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of U.C . Irvine’s new law school, is photographed in his office at the Irvine campus on August 18, 2009. (Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times)

In an interview, Chemerinsky, 61, an unapologetic liberal and dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, seems a bit surprised at himself.

“My nature is to be very optimistic and upbeat,” he says. Indeed, he has a reputation for trenchant and clear scholarship about the court. And his personal demeanor is unfailingly polite and soft-spoken; he is the kind of man who praises an interviewer’s questions.

He says there is nothing personal about his critique of the current court and that all of the justices are “incredibly talented individuals.”

But the justices could be forgiven for thinking that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Chemerinsky testified against Justice Samuel A. Alito at the justice’s confirmation hearings. He wrote last spring that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should resign so that President Obama could appoint her successor. He told Justice Stephen G. Breyer he should be the next to pack up.

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