News and Information
September 10, 2007

Continued Relevance of Lewis Powell’s Jurisprudence Takes Center Stage during W&L Celebration


September 19, 2007, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, a graduate of Washington and Lee University. W&L will celebrate this milestone with a symposium and two lectures exploring Justice Powell's judicial legacy. All of these events are free and open to the public.

On Monday, September 17, beginning at 8:45 a.m., the Washington and Lee School of Law will host a symposium, sponsored by the Lewis Law Center, examining how Justice Powell's concurrence in Branzburg v. Hayes continues to inform the issue of reportorial privilege. Justice Powell's opinion eschewed all-or-nothing alternatives, and as was evidenced during the Valerie Plame leak investigation, the relationship between a journalist and his or her source continues to be one of the most contested issues in modern mass media law.

Participating in the symposium are:

Kathleen Sullivan, professor of law, Stanford University;
Mike Allen, columnist for The Politico and TIME Magazine;
David Westin, president of ABC News;
James B. Comey, senior vice president and general counsel of Lockheed Martin and former deputy Attorney General, whose recent congressional testimony about a meeting in John Ashcroft's hospital room set off shock waves in Washington;
Chuck Rosenberg, Unites States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia;
Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the W&L School of law;
Dayo Abah, professor of journalism, Washington and Lee.

On Wednesday, September 19, at 10:00 a.m., the School of Law will host a lecture by New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse. Ms. Greenhouse will discuss how Justice Powell might rule on today's immigration issues based on his opinion in Plyler v. Doe, a case that affirmed the right of undocumented children to a free public education.

Finally, on Friday, September 21, at 1:30 p.m., Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will deliver the 5th annual Powell Lecture in Lee Chapel on the W&L campus. Remarking on the chief characteristics of Justice Powell's jurisprudence in his essay, "The Powellian Virtues in a Polarized Age," Judge Wilkinson, who served as Justice Powell's first law clerk, noted that Powell "treated legal principles not as hard and fast rules but rather, as presumptions that could be rebutted in an appropriate case."

In short, Powell wanted the facts. "The rule of decision was strictly based on the facts of the case then before the court, with the results of cases with differing facts left for the future." Yet regardless of the outcome, Powell sought the common ground in his decisions, striving to give something to both sides in the dispute.

"Powell's concurrence in Branzburg illuminates this observation," said Smolla. "In a manner so characteristic of his balanced pragmatism, Justice Powell's opinion suggested a middle ground, and in the years following Branzburg many lower courts have relied on Justice Powell's opinion to craft a qualified privilege protecting the confidentiality of a journalist's source."

Added Smolla, "As we pause this year to pay tribute to Justice Powell's extraordinary judicial career, we are pleased at Washington and Lee to take this occasion to explore the current legal and policy debates surrounding this issue, and the ongoing influence of Justice Powell's thought upon it."

Complete details and registration information for these events are available on the Web at http://law.wlu.edu/powell. Updated: Sep 10, 2007