The United States Supreme Court could use the power it has over American life to identify new protections for criminal defendants and for people whose privacy has been invaded by new technology, said legal scholars and court watchers at a Zócalo/UCLA Downtown event.
But the same scholars warned that the court’s conservative majority, reinforced by the recent appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, also could grant greater power to corporations and curtail affirmative action, reproductive rights, and protections for immigrants and LGBT people.
The scholars—law professors with expertise in areas from guns to government regulation to education—were addressing the central question of the event, “How Will the New Supreme Court Change America?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles. But they offered their predictions with caution and caveats, with one panelist, UCLA Law School’s Adam Winkler, noting that law professors have poor records of prognostication.
The moderator, The Wall Street Journal Supreme Court correspondent Jess Bravin, noted in his opening that the court is unique in that “it’s only answerable to itself.” And so despite the justices’ general respect for precedent, the court can break new ground. Bravin pressed the panelists on where they think that ground might lie.
Beth Colgan, a UCLA School of Law professor who teaches and researches criminal procedure and juvenile justice, pointed to the new questions technology is raising about privacy. Recent cases, including one that limited law enforcement’s use of cell phone data, and some words from the relatively new Justice Neil Gorsuch, suggest that the court is skeptical of the power that technology gives the police to gather information on our lives.