By Duane Paul Murphy
Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, current dean and founder of University of California Irvine School of Law and incoming dean at University of California Berkley School of Law, was an invited guest speaker by Progressives of South Orange County at St. Andrews by-the-Sea United Methodist Church in San Clemente on Tuesday, May 30.
During the event, titled “Threats to Our Constitutional Rights,” Chemerinsky presented several Supreme Court cases that have affected the judicial process as well as relationship between private citizens and government officials, especially those mentioned in his new book, Closing the Courthouse Doors: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable.
“I believe that the most important role of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary is to enforce the Constitution,” Chemerinsky said in his opening remarks. “If they are not infallible, then there is no way to protect individual rights.”
The first Supreme Court case discussed was the 1978 ruling in Stump v. Sparkman in which a judge in Indiana was granted immunity from being sued by a woman who was sterilized without her own knowledge as a minor. Cases such as Imbler v. Pachtman and Van de Kamp v. Goldstein were further discussed in regards to how these Supreme Court cases established legal immunity for public judicial officials, such as judges, police officers, government prosecutors and district attorneys, due to the 11th Amendment, which establishes sovereign immunity for public officials.
He also brought up the 2001 case Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett in which the Supreme Court decided that private citizens cannot sue the states for money damages due to immunity clauses within the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
After his opening remarks concluded, a wide variety of issues regarding proposed constitutional reforms, significant legal cases and the current state of Donald Trump’s presidency were discussed during the questions-and-answer portion of the event.
When one audience member asked about proposed changes to the Supreme Court, Chemerinsky said there should be bipartisan support in regard to term limits for Supreme Court justices and other federal judges. As the topic of the Electoral College was approached, Chemerinsky affirmed his position that the electoral votes should be awarded proportionally either based on the popular vote or congressional district vote within each state.
When asked about the situation with free speech on college campuses, especially at his new position at Berkley, the law professor vocalized his support of rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. Berkley has been a critical site for issues of free speech—recently and throughout its establishment.
“I think that it is essential that all ideas and views, conservative and liberal, be able to be expressed on every college campus. Period,” Chemerinsky replied.
At the end of the event, members within the audience gave it a positive review.
“I thought that the audience was really well engaged and enthusiastic,” said Jim Holloway, a San Clemente resident.
Duane Paul Murphy is a student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is an intern with Picket Fence Media this summer.