Author Linda Greenhouse talks about covering the Supreme Court, the impact of prior rulings similar to Dobbs and her philosophy on simplifying rulings for

LENOX — The Authors Guild Foundation will host its inaugural “Words, Ideas, and Thinkers Festival,” Sept. 22-25 at Shakespeare & Company, where it will bring together many of today’s best and brightest writers to explore the theme of “Reimagining America” through a series of thought-provoking conversations, presentations, panels and speeches.

Discussion topics include identity and belonging, reexamining history, climate change, the U.S. Supreme Court and visions for our future. Festival attendees will have the opportunity to interact with speakers in Q&A sessions, book signings and receptions. The speakers include Dan Brown, Simon Winchester, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris, Geraldine Brooks, Jane Smiley, David Blight, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Elizabeth Kolbert, Douglas Preston, Ayad Akhtar and Susan Choi.

The WIT Festival is free. Session selections and tickets for hosted dinners are available to Giving Society members. Non-members will be able to select sessions and purchase tickets to hosted dinners beginning Aug. 15. For more information, visit authorsguild.org/the-foundation/wit-festival. The WIT Festival is co-sponsored by The Berkshire Eagle, the festival’s media sponsor.


Author Simon Winchester talks about China, his time as a foreign correspondent and the ongoing changes in the field of journalism

On Saturday, Sept. 24, legal scholar, author and journalist Linda Greenhouse will discuss the question of “Does the Supreme Court Have a Future?” with Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School. In her 40-year career with The New York Times, from 1978 to 2008 she covered the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a Pulitzer Prize for her work in 1998. She has written several books about the court, including most recently “Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months that Transformed the Supreme Court” in 2021. She is currently a clinical lecturer in law and a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, and frequently writes for the Times and the New York Review of Books. The Eagle reached her by email ahead of her appearance in Lenox.

Q: The earthshaking Dobbs ruling — which overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to reproductive healthcare — has surely raised the stakes in the conversation about the future of the Supreme Court. Shortly after the ruling in June, you argued in an essay in the New York Times that the ruling “is also a requiem for the Supreme Court,” because it was a matter of simply having more votes rather than respecting the rule of law.

Has the Court ever faced a crisis like this before? And was it inevitable?

Linda Greenhouse: “Ever” is a long time. There have been Supreme Court-generated crises before: the New Deal period, for instance. The Dred Scott decision helped to bring on the Civil War. It’s fair to say that the court has not always been democracy’s friend.

It’s hard to say what “inevitable” means in the context of the Dobbs decision. A set of contingencies as well as purposeful behavior by many actors brought us to this moment. Republican presidents and Senates have far outgunned Democrats in making appointments to the court. And every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1980 has run on a party platform that pledged him to appoint justices who would overturn Roe. So all these years later, here we are.

Q: Dobbs came at a time when many questions about politics have shaped the court, after the three controversial and unusual appointments by President Trump. In March you wrote about the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court for the New York Review of Books. While many feared the commission was a way to talk the subject to death without really doing anything, you noted the possibility that it introduced into the conversation some ideas that had been considered somewhat fringe (like expanding the court, term limits, etc.).

Have these conversations picked up steam within the legal community in the weeks since then? Will that translate into political momentum to make changes?

Linda Greenhouse: The political landscape doesn’t favor making structural changes to the Supreme Court. But it’s important that the conversation be ongoing. The president’s commission took its charge seriously and, as I wrote, made a conversation that I think will have value over time. It frees us to think skeptically about how the court uses its great power, and about whether this is what is really in the country’s interest.

Q: As a journalist, you spent 30 years covering the court for the New York Times. That’s a long time to really study and understand the institution and build relationships there (seven of the nine justices actually dropped by your going-away party in 2008). What do you see happening to that spirit of collegiality today?

Linda Greenhouse: I should note that my relationships with the justices were arms’-length rather than cozy — but by the time I “retired,” I had been there for longer than any member of the court except Justice John Paul Stevens, so I guess I was a bit of an institution.

Sitting in Stockbridge, I really can’t presume to know what’s going on inside the court, but it certainly seems from the paper record — the sorrow as well as anger expressed by the dissent in Dobbs, for example — that there is an unusual amount of tension.

Q: In 2006 you raised some eyebrows when in a speech you expressed your personal opinions about some of the decisions of the Bush-era court, and concerns about the direction it was heading, particularly in terms of reproductive rights. Even though no one accused you of actual bias, some prominent journalists criticized you on the grounds that expressing opinions in public inevitably gives rise to an appearance of bias.

Do you think it is advisable — or even possible — for reporters to keep their personal beliefs private in the face of such momentous and high-stakes debates?

Linda Greenhouse: Ah, I’m happy to provide some context for an episode that has entered journalism archives (you found it!) without being sufficiently understood. I gave a talk at a private event at my alma mater, which was giving me a major alumnae award. My topic was what had become of our generation’s expectation upon graduation in the midst of the Vietnam War that when we got our turn to run things, we would do a better job. How did that turn out, I asked, and as examples of how it didn’t seem to be turning out too well, I cited the Bush administration’s effort to create a legal black hole at Guantánamo Bay (which the Supreme Court had in fact rejected in the Rasul case two years earlier) and that fact that the administration had turned over the social-issues docket to the religious right (demonstrably true).

A guy from NPR made a big fuss about how I should not have expressed these thoughts. Much of the journalistic establishment, relying on those snippets that he sent them from a 30-minute talk, agreed with him. A journalistic spasm of sanctimony ensued. I found it ridiculous then and I still do. Having said that, do I think journalists ought to be running around spewing political opinions? No, I think it’s a question of nuance and context. In fact, I wrote a book on this subject. (“Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between,” Harvard University Press, 2017).

Q: You are both an accomplished legal scholar as well as a journalist. What have you learned through the years about how to explain subjects as complicated and esoteric as the workings of the court to a general audience? Is it ever frustrating to have to simplify details and leave out layers of nuance and context?

Linda Greenhouse: I’ve done a lot of on-the-job learning. Covering the court on a daily basis is a continuing adult education. So early on, I would ask myself: OK, if I were me before I got all this education, what would I — an ordinary New York Times reader — need to know about what just happened in order to make sense of it? So that became my internal guidance system. And by “need to know,” I mean not just facts but context — where did this case come from, why did the court choose to decide it, what are the implications of the decision for the next case. My effort was not to tell readers what to think, but to empower them with the knowledge they needed to come to their own informed conclusions.

Q: At your session in Lenox you will be in conversation with Nikolas Bowie, a distinguished legal scholar at Harvard Law School who is from a different generation — he was a college intern in the Obama White House and clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. How long have you known him? Do you notice any generational differences between your approach to the Court as an institution, and that of Bowie’s generation?

Linda Greenhouse: Niko and I have actually never met. I knew his mother, the distinguished legal scholar Lani Guinier. In fact, the last conversation I had with Lani before her death was about Niko and his impending clerkship with a well-known conservative appeals court judge, a fact that Lani found quite amusing. I’ll let Niko speak for himself, of course, but I’ll just say that his work is important: it challenges existing norms about the court, and I think he is indeed representative of a new generation of constitutional scholars who see things very differently from the generation of people I learned from. And that’s an excellent thing.

IF YOU GO 

The Authors Guild’s Words, Ideas, and Thinkers Festival: Reimagining America

What: A three-day festival bringing together authors, academics, scientists, activists, book lovers and anyone interested in stimulating discourse, new ideas, and exploring potential solutions to challenging contemporary problems.

Where: Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox

When: Sept. 22-25

Registration and information: authorsguild.org/the-foundation/wit-festival/

WIT FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

All events are at Shakespeare & Company unless noted. Book signings to follow each 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. session.

Thursday, Sept. 22

5 p.m.: When Religion Meets Science with Dan Brown

6 p.m.: Reception

7 p.m.: Dinner at the Mount (ticketed event)

Friday, Sept. 23

10 a.m.: America and China: Comes the Moment with Simon Winchester and retired U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris

11:30 a.m.: What Animals Know with Geraldine Brooks and Jane Smiley

3 p.m.: Pop-up Reading: Letty Cottin Pogrebin, “Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy,” at The Bookstore in Lenox

5 p.m.: Reexamining American History with David Blight and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

6 p.m: Reception

7 p.m.: Food Truck Party at Shakespeare & Company. Ticketed event

Saturday, Sept. 24

10 a.m.: On Climate Change with Elizabeth Kolbert and Douglas Preston

11:30 a.m.: Does the Supreme Court Have a Future? with Linda Greenhouse and Nikolas Bowie

2 p.m.: Pop-up Event: Wild Symphony, a reading and musical performance with Dan Brown

5 p.m.: Identity and Belonging with Ayad Akhtar and Susan Choi; moderated by Marie Arana

6 p.m.: Reception

7 p.m.: Dinner by the Bite at a private Stockbridge home. Ticketed event.

Sunday, Sept. 25

11 a.m.: Authors Guild Foundation Fundraising Event: Community Service. Written by Laura Pedersen and performed by Paula Ewin and David Rockefeller. Ticketed event.