Reva Siegel to deliver annual Robert H. Jackson Lecture on Supreme Court, with focus on abortion rights

Every year, Chautauqua’s Robert H. Jackson Lecture on the Supreme Court comes after the court wraps its session; in 2022, that means Week Three, with a look at landmark decisions from the past term.

“This lecture traditionally falls later in the summer after the court made decisions,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “It provides implications from renowned legal scholars to provide context on those decisions.”


At 3:30 p.m. Monday, July 11, in the Hall of Philosophy, Reva Siegel, the Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will deliver the 18th Annual Robert H. Jackson Lecture on the Supreme Court of the United States. Siegel said the lecture will largely focus on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“My lecture will discuss the reasoning of the Dobbs decision in light of tensions in our understandings of originalism, which is both a method of interpreting the Constitution and a political movement reaching back to the Reagan administration — which has sought from the beginning to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Siegel said.  

She will also touch on how President Donald Trump’s judicial appointments have affected the chemistry of the Supreme Court, the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, and established precedent.

Siegel described her lecture as half about Dobbs, a quarter on how it was made and a quarter about the voices — women’s voices — that were excluded from the opinion.

“It was obvious that this was going to be a year where the Supreme Court did major things in the constitutional law of abortion rights. We discussed it, and then the question was, who would be the expert speaker to invite to Chautauqua,” said John Q. Barrett, a Benjamin N. Cardozo Professor of Law at St. John’s University and Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center.

To Barrett and others, Siegel was the perfect fit. She teaches constitutional law and reproductive justice, among other courses at Yale.

“Reva Siegel, with her background and her career and her scholarship, immediately came to mind and we pursued her,” Barrett said 

Siegel uses legal history to look into the questions of law and inequality, and she analyzes how the court follows the popular movements in interpreting the Constitution. She has written multiple legal articles and books regarding inequality in law. Her books, either authored or edited, include Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, with Linda Greenhouse; Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking: Cases and Materials, with Sanford Levinson, Jack M. Balkin, Akhil Reed Amar and Cristina M. Rodriguez; and Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories, with Melissa Murray and Kate Shaw. Greenhouse, Amar and Murray have all delivered the Robert H. Jackson Lecture in previous years.

Siegel co-wrote an amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization arguing that abortion rights are grounded in equal protection. 

“How President Trump’s originalist appointees changed the meaning of the way that the court interpreted the Constitution guarantee of liberty …  includes how the court approaches not only abortion, but a whole range of issues including interracial marriage, contraception and rights to same-sex marriage,” Siegel said. “So it’s not only abortion, but it’s a whole list of other rights, also.”

Siegel sees Dobbs as a triumph of originalism, which can be defined as an interpretation of the Constitution as it was understood at the time it was written. But she views originalism as more than just that.

“I understand originalism is not only a method of interpreting the Constitution but also a political practice of constitutional change that’s justified by claims on the past,” Siegel said. 

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The author Cassidey Kavathas

Cassidey Kavathas, a Buffalo native, is a rising junior journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. This is her first summer at the Daily. She is covering Advancement, Institution administration, the board of trustees, the CPOA and dance. She serves as editor-in-chief at her college’s newspaper, as well as news director at her college’s radio station. Cassidey has previously reported for PolitiFact NY, The Olean Times Herald, TAPInto Greater Olean and St. Bonaventure University’s advancements office.