The following interview of Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe about his book Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution (Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, Henry Holt and Co., 2014, ISBN 978-0-8050-9909-6) took place in the Ohio Room of the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. on June 20 during the 2014 Convention of the American Constitution Society. The Interviewer is Frank Housh of the Housh Law Offices, PLLC, in Buffalo New York, Chair of the ACS WNY Lawyer Group and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Your book seems to consciously avoid some of the characteristics of books written for the legal profession, such as voluminous footnotes and block quotes. Was this a book meant for the general public?
It wasn't so much that I consciously was not writing a book for lawyers. I was consciously not writing a book only for lawyers. I definitely want the legal community to get a better understanding than it seems to have displayed about what makes the Supreme Court operate the way it does, what drives the decisions, why the standard sort of press accounts are such oversimplified caricatures. At the same time, I certainly wanted to speak to my own colleagues and the people who teach constitutional law with fresh insights. So I didn't want it to be only for non-lawyers, but I wanted it to be very broadly accessible. So that for me, as soon as someone like Doris Kearns Goodwin said that she thought everybody would enjoy my book
it, find it thrilling and fascinating, that's what I was aiming for—because I think that lawyers too often speak only to one another and judges and there's a kind of clique and almost a sort of inside mentality of the high priesthood of the law that I wanted to break through.
I guess that's what I meant by the question. It seems that you were constantly trying to avoid legal speak, legalese, that often accompanies writing by lawyers for lawyers.
Right. And all the talk of levels of scrutiny and intermediate review and so on, things that are substitutes for thought very often, and that are pigeon holes, but very few birds are pigeons.
I interpreted your book, especially the Prologue and Epilogue, as an attempt to write a historical perspective on the Roberts Court during its existence. Is that a fair statement?
It's not a retrospective view as it would be if I was writing about the Hughes, Taft, Stone, Warren, or Burger Courts. It’s a Court in process; it's a Court that's ongoing. We're living through it and the world that we're living through is being constantly reshaped in profound and dramatic ways in respect to issues of personal anonymity, issues of whom you can marry, who can carry a gun, who can vote, what kinds of government action can be based on race and in what way, and what are the limits of the President's powers. It is really a book about things that are very much in the news and that affect all of us, but that most of us in a society that is self-governing understand far too little about. So I wanted to do my bit in overcoming that knowledge gap, that understanding gap.