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Supreme Court Expert

Paul Collins brings an educated eye to the nomination process

As the country waits to see how and when the process to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court will play out, Paul M. Collins Jr., associate professor and director of the Legal Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will be watching with deep historical perspective and insight.

An expert on the court, he’ll be ready for the media calls that come his way whenever there are new developments. Collins has long been fascinated with the Supreme Court and has written two books on the subject. His 2013 book Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings and Constitutional Change, written with Lori A. Ringhand, examined more than 70 years of confirmation hearing transcripts. He concluded that hearings are a valuable opportunity for the people to influence the make-up of the highest court in the land and, by extension, influence judicial decisions with profound national consequences.

Collins’s first book, Friends of the Supreme Court: Interest Groups and Judicial Decision Making, found that briefs filed by interest groups can also help shape justices’ decisions in significant ways.

Election year Supreme Court nominations are quite rare, Collins points out, and so, as the process to fill the ninth seat on the bench stutters along, he is eager to see how the voice of the people will affect the process under these unusual circumstances.

A few things to watch: Will the Republicans really refuse to consider an Obama nominee? And, if so, will they pay a political price? Collins says, “The more moderate Republican senators might take a hit if they maintain an obstructionist stance.”

He says the second major risk of an obstructionist stance is that if a Democrat becomes president the next nominee to the Supreme Court will likely be more liberal.

With his eye on how the citizenry influences the make-up and decisions of the court, Collins is heartened by the keen interest his undergraduate students take in the news. “They are full of questions and very aware of the importance of the Supreme Court as a co-equal branch of our government,” he says. Access his speech by clicking here.





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