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Denniston will discuss Supreme Court as political institution

Veteran reporter will speak at UB Law

Lyle Denniston, who makes his debut Monday as a member of the University of Baltimore School of Law faculty, says he has no plans for retirement after covering covering the Supreme Court for nearly 60 years. ‘If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do it anymore,’ he says. ‘When it stops being fun, then I’ll stop doing it.’ (File photo)

Lyle Denniston, who makes his debut Monday as a member of the University of Baltimore School of Law faculty, says he has no plans for retirement after covering covering the Supreme Court for nearly 60 years. ‘If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do it anymore,’ he says. ‘When it stops being fun, then I’ll stop doing it.’ (File photo)

Journalist Lyle Denniston, who has reported on the U.S. Supreme Court for nearly 60 years, will be speaking Monday afternoon at the University of Baltimore School of Law about the subject he knows best.

Denniston, in his debut as a law professor, will answer with a “yes and no” the question of whether the high court is a “political” institution. He will address the incorrect but “popular perception that the Supreme Court is little more than a group of politicians wearing robes,” he said in an interview Friday.

While the high court does address substantive and procedural political issues, such as abortion and gerrymandering, the justices are not “trying to push one party over another,” he added.

Denniston, the dean of the Supreme Court press corps, joined the law school’s faculty this semester as the Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Academic Transformation with the university’s Bank of America Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching and Technology.

Monday’s talk in the John and Frances Angelos Law Center Moot Courtroom is one of six he will deliver this academic year, the school said. Coming topics include “When the Politicians Pick the Voters” and “Picking the Justices: A System in Disgrace,” which he will address in October and November, respectively.

Monday’s open-to-the-public event will be less of a lecture and more of a discussion between Denniston and Garrett Epps, a constitutional-law professor at the school who has written extensively on the Supreme Court.

Denniston said he hopes these discussions “help the public more fully understand how the Supreme Court works.”

The court is both “a proactive and reactive institution,” he added.

For example, the justices generally agree to hear appeals in order to settle disagreements among lower federal courts on a legal issue. However, the justices will not wait for a dispute to emerge below if the underlying issue is so important that it requires their immediate attention, Denniston said.

Such an example arose when the justices upheld subsidy provisions of the Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as Obamacare.

“The court obviously understood that that was an important issue on how the ACA was going to function,” Denniston said.

The Nebraska native has covered the U.S. Supreme Court since 1958 for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Star, The Baltimore Sun, American Lawyer, The Boston Globe and SCOTUSblog. He stepped down from the blog in June to take a position covering the court for Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

At 85, Denniston said he enjoys covering the high court too much to contemplate retirement.

“If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “When it stops being fun, then I’ll stop doing it.”

The Daily Record recognized Denniston in 2014 as an Influential Marylander for his contributions in the communications field.


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