Drexel Associate Professor of Law Lisa McElroy contributed to an op-ed piece that was published in “The New York Times” Sept. 22, admonishing the U.S. Supreme Court for not promptly informing the public of the fate of death row inmate Troy Davis.
Davis, who was executed Sept. 21 after a much-disputed case regarding the death of an off-duty police officer, had previously been the subject of three Supreme Court sessions. Many believed that he did not kill the victim, a Georgia police officer, and the Court met the night of the execution to decide Davis’ fate.
The Supreme Court spent roughly four hours in session, during which time the public, and Davis’ family, were not given any information regarding his pending execution. McElroy and Slate Magazine editor Dahlia Lithwick wrote an op-ed piece addressing the Supreme Court’s “radio silence,” as they called it.
“We really weren’t talking about the merits of the case,” McElroy said. “It was really about the lacking courtesy of the Supreme Court and the opportunity the Court had to show the public that they were respectful of this man who was going to be put to death.”
In the introduction to the opinion piece, the two wrote, “… As the nation watched and waited, [the Supreme Court] did nothing for 203 minutes past the scheduled execution time. Or at least nothing anyone could see.”
They went on to discuss the panic many felt because they weren’t being informed, writing “… While the court went dark for over three hours, a man waited to learn whether he would live or die, as did his family. The family of Mark A. MacPhail Sr., the Savannah police officer whom Mr. Davis was convicted of killing, waited for closure.”
McElroy and Lithwick were closely following the case the night of the execution, frequently posting to Facebook their sentiments regarding the Court.
“We were saying, ‘What is going on?’ because it is so unusual for that to happen – that the Supreme Court wouldn’t be ready to speak,” McElroy explained.
As they watched, Lithwick and McElroy entertained the idea of writing an opinion piece, but weren’t really serious until the Court finally spoke.
“I emailed [Lithwick] and said, ‘I really think we need to say something about this because the Supreme Court isn’t explaining itself at all,’” McElroy said.
McElroy decided to email the opinion editor at The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, to propose her piece. When he responded and agreed to the idea, McElroy and Lithwick worked frantically to have their piece ready to print the next morning. They frequently corresponded with The Times, sending and receiving drafts of the piece throughout the night.
“We wanted to make sure that the tone was consistent,” McElroy said. “It was ultimately very helpful to have each other to make sure it sounded right and communicated what we wanted it to.”
McElroy explained that she and her colleague wanted to criticize the Court while still remaining respectful.
“We both have enormous respect for the Supreme Court,” she said. “I feel the same way about the Supreme Court as I do the Red Sox. I’m just passionate about it. We wanted the piece to communicate that but also say, ‘You let us down a little bit in this particular instance.’”
She continued, “We thought that the public probably got the wrong impression about how the Court works because they waited so long without saying anything.”
McElroy said she has received overwhelming support for her piece, within and outside the Drexel community.
“We’ve heard from people all over the country and people in the Supreme Court circle who have been huge idols of mine and were really excited to see the piece,” she said.
McElroy is currently working on an academic paper on technology’s influence in the Supreme Court.
“In this day and age, we really do expect to be able to see our government in action,” she explained. “What Dahlia and I hoped would happen with the op-ed piece is that it would start a conversation, and I think it did that.”
To read McElroy’s piece entitled “Silence From the Court,” visit the Op-Ed section of nytimes.com.