John Marshall and His Critics Conference Directed by Dr. Mark Packer

February 3, 2012 at 10:16 am

Dr. Mark Packer of the department of interdisciplinary studies directed a conference January 12-15 called “John Marshall and His Critics.”

Fifteen distinguished scholars from across the country met in Miami for a series of round table discussions to debate the judicial opinions of John Marshall (1755-1835), who served as the third Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. The cases for which Marshall is best known include Marbury vs. Madison (1803) and Mcculloch vs. Maryland (1819). Commentary on these opinions by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were also discussed.

The conference focused on the conflicting visions of law and government that dominated the American political conversation in the decades following independence. Topics that were discussed included whether the  federal government is permitted to exercise implied powers, i.e. powers that are not expressly delegated to it by the Constitution; what exactly the phrase “We the People” means  in the Constitution’s preamble; precedents and traditions the Supreme Court employed when interpreting its earliest cases; and whether disagreements among the American founders about states’ rights and federal authority could have been resolved by any means short of civil war.

Among the scholars attending the conference were Pauline Maier, Professor of Political Science at MIT; Holly Brewer, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Maryland; and John Yoo, Professor of Constitutional Law at UC Berkeley, who also served as Legal Counsel to President George W. Bush while Congress was investigating the use of torture on terrorism suspects following 9-11.

Differences in opinion at the conference ran as deep and wide as among the republic’s founders. But a consensus emerged that disagreement of this kind is precisely what keeps a deliberative democracy such as ours a free and dynamic nation capable of confronting its challenges.

The conference was sponsored by Liberty Fund, Inc., a non-profit educational foundation based in Indianapolis.