CNN analyst, staff writer for The New Yorker and best-selling author Jeffery Toobin speaks at the Trotter Convention Center during the 2017 Welty Gala Friday. Photo by: Luisa Porer/Dispatch Staff
October 21, 2017 10:08:44 PM
A spontaneous burst of applause greeted CNN legal analyst and The New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Toobin at the Trotter Convention Center in downtown Columbus Friday night after he read aloud from a 1943 Supreme Court decision declaring public officials cannot force citizens to participate in patriotic ceremonies.
Toobin, a legal analyst who has written books on topics from the U.S. Supreme Court justices to the O.J. Simpson and Patty Hearst trials highlighted the program at the Welty Gala, the annual fundraiser Mississippi University for Women hosts every year to raise money for scholarships.
The majority of Toobin's nearly hour-long speech focused on the Supreme Court and how its political makeup has changed over the last 50 years. He opened the floor for questions near the end of the night, which is when one student asked him his least favorite of President Donald Trump's decisions.
For Toobin, it was Trump's demand to National Football League that athletes who kneel during the national anthem be fired.
"I want to talk about the national anthem," Toobin said. "...The president is saying that, you know, you better stand up during the national anthem ... or get rid of those SOBs if they don't stand up. Well in 1943, the Supreme Court had a case called Barnette v. West Virginia Board of Education. That was a case about a school child, a Jehovah's Witness, whose religion required him not to salute the flag."
Toobin read an excerpt from the court's majority decision.
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein," Toobin read. "If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us."
'A political body'
While it was Toobin's favorite decision of any Supreme Court justices have written -- and the only one to receive a round of applause from the crowd -- it was far from the only case Toobin touched on in his speech.
He mentioned Loving v. Virginia in 1967, which legalized interracial marriage, Roe v. Wade in 1973, Bush v. Gore in 2000 and plenty of others, talking about the influence each case had on American culture and how individual justices steered the court's decisions.
"My view is that the Supreme Court is a deeply political body and one whose decisions reverberate through many people's every-day lives," Toobin said during an interview with the press before the gala. "But because there's no television in the courtrooms, people tend to forget how important it is and what the justices are like behind the scenes. So I like to talk about the significance of the Supreme Court in contemporary politics."
Media and politics
Still, Toobin didn't shy away from politics and journalism during question and answer sessions with reporters, MUW students and gala audience members. His topics ranged from Trump's Tweets to what it's like covering national stories.
"We're at a moment when news seems very politicized," he said. "Between cable news and the internet, and certainly your Facebook feed and Twitter, you can curate what kind of news you get in a way that's very different from when your parents were growing up -- basically everyone in the whole country watched Walter Cronkite.
"(Now) the news media is very atomized and it's become atomized by politics," he added. "And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing because people can choose the news they want."
He said he doesn't even mind Trump's use of Twitter, which he takes as statements of government policy.
"I like the fact that we have this unmediated access to what a president is thinking," he said.
"The problem is that sometimes he's Tweeting things that are just not true or outrageous like that NBC should have its license taken away ... because the president doesn't like what they're broadcasting," he added.
'Be a good storyteller'
Toobin's advice to students: learn to write well and quickly. More broadly, know that even as methods of spreading news and telling stories change, the audience for those stories will always be there.
"I think it's important to be a good storyteller and to be able to keep people interested in whatever you're telling them," he said. "...It's true that the forms of distribution are different, but good storyelling -- whether it's using video, audio, words -- will always have an audience."
There's nothing like being in the middle of a big story, Toobin said.
"My favorite part is sort of feeling like you're at the center of the universe, feeling like everybody wants to know what you know," he said. "...You just feel like people just can't wait to hear what you have to say or read what you have to write."
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