In a special lecture held at HWS in honor of Constitution Day, Joel B. Grossman, a distinguished scholar and professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University, shared remarks with members of the HWS community about the effectiveness and influence of the U.S. Constitution as it stands today. He brought a perspective informed by years of teaching and writing about constitutional law, constitutional theory, the Supreme Court and the legal system.
Held in Stern Hall, Grossman’s presentation was titled “Can the Constitution Be Saved? Does It Need Saving? Should It Be Saved?” His visit to campus was hosted by the Office of the Provost and the Political Science Department. Associate Professor of Political Science Paul Passavant and Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of Faculty DeWayne Lucas helped to organize the event. Passavant is among Grossman’s many former students.
Introduced by Passavant at the lecture, Grossman began his presentation by offering a snapshot and introductory comments about the Constitution. He discussed various scholarly perspectives that have focused on the Constitution and its impact, including topics that ranged from the power of the U.S. Supreme Court to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
A member of the audience asked, “How can something be unconstitutional if it is in the Constitution?” to which Grossman replied, “If it was added to the Constitution in an unorthodox way, then it is unconstitutional.” He then argued that Constitutional Convention itself was a violation of the Constitution.
Grossman went on to address the state and composition of what he referred to as “Roberts’ Court,” the current U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts. He indicated that not only has the composition of the panel of nine justices changed since its founding, but also the “process” by which justices are selected.
Towards the end of his lecture, Grossman answered his initial question, “Does the Constitution need to be saved?” His simple answer was, “No,” because it’s not that bad.
Since arriving at JHU, Grossman has served as chair of the department as well as receiving the 2007 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at JHU. He also received the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Law and Courts section of the American Political Science Association. He is co-editor of The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court (2005).
Before he joined JHU in 1996, Grossman taught at University of Wisconsin-Madison for 33 years. During his time there, he was chair of the department from 1975-78, editor of Law & Society Review from 1978-82, chair of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, and chair of the University Committee. In addition, he received the 1988 Emil Steiger Award for Excellence in Teaching.
During his career, Grossman was the co-principal investigator for the Civil Litigation Project, which gathered empirical data about civil disputes and the process of disputing. This project opened up a new field of research for scholars to analyze the data and write articles.
First instituted in 2005, Constitution Day commemorates the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the Constitution by the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia; it was their final meeting. In honor of Constitution Day, the Colleges invite noted scholars and public figures to campus to engage in discussion about the Constitution and related subjects.