Off the Cuff: Ron Kahn
Ronald Kahn, James Monroe Professor of Politics and Law and chair of the politics department, has been teaching at Oberlin since 1969. A widely published author and a staple in the politics department, Kahn has taught numerous classes at Oberlin on constitutional law and politics, particularly the Supreme Court decision-making process. In addition, Kahn teaches in the Oberlin Initiative for Electoral Politics, which provides educational internships for students interested in running for office.
You just participated in an informal discussion on Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) and its implications. What impact do you think the case will have on a woman’s right to abortion?
The answer to this is quite complex. The right to abortion choice as stated in Roe [v. Wade] (1973) and reaffirmed in Casey [v. Planned Parenthood] (1992) is again reaffirmed in Gonzales. Moreover, viability as the point at which a woman can choose to have an abortion — that is, up to the end of the second trimester — is not changed in Gonzales. “Intact D&E,” a procedure used in some second trimester abortions, is prohibited.
My concern with Gonzales is that for the first time the Supreme Court does not leave issues of what is best for the health of a women in regards to abortion procedures up to the standards approved by the medical profession, and to the doctor and patient. Rather, the Supreme Court is allowing Congress to make a decision to ban Intact D&E on scientific evidence that is questionable — and politically based.
I also am concerned that the law that bans this procedure, which Congress approved and the Court said was constitutional, will have a chilling effect on the willingness of medical venues to do second term abortions. I also fear states will try to add to the list of procedures that can’t be used.
I have other concerns with regard to how Gonzales reads, compared to Roe and Casey, but space does not allow me to list these concerns.
Gonzales in no way is the beginning of the end of the right to abortion choice as a constitutional right. Justices Scalia and Thomas, but not Roberts and Alito, stated they wished to end the right of abortion choice under the Constitution.
Finally, this case will help energize pro-choice advocates as part of the upcoming presidential election.
What is the role of professors and academics in this country in terms of informing the public about policy?
There are many different publics. The role a specific academic has should fit his/her interests. These include public talks and forums, publications, consulting and being on public boards, editorials, attending conferences, working with public interest and advocacy groups that are related to your expertise ­­­­— the ACLU in my case. I also have been on public programs funded by the Ohio Humanities Council educating citizens about rights.
My greatest impact on the public is through my work as a teacher, trying to get my students to think about individual rights and abuse of government power, what equality has meant over time, the role of law and legal institutions in American political development, and to help them to gain the analytic skills to understand, read and write on such subjects. So my impact will probably be based less on my work outside the academy. My impact will be primarily through my students who are now, and will be in the future, be professors, change agents in non-profits, lawyers and legal advocates, to name just a few of the venues in which they are active.
What are you working on now in terms of publications?
With the publication of The Supreme Court and American Political Development in June, 2006, and chairing the politics department in 2006-2007, I have only been able complete several articles in the last year. One of them is “The Constitution Restoration Act, Judicial Independence and Popular Constitutionalism,” which was published in the Case Western Reserve Law Review early in 2007. I am working on several additional articles and a book with the working title of The Supreme Court and Social Change in Post-Pluralist America.
What is your opinion on how the presidential search is being conducted?
I know the Committee is working very hard on this, and I do hope they are successful. I hope they will widen the circle of professors and others who see the candidates. In the last round of interviews there were no social scientists who met with the presidential candidates.
What do you think are the three most important aspects the College should be looking for in President Dye’s replacement?
The most important qualities for the president should be development — that is, fundraising, developing good relations with alums and widening the focus of the next capital campaign. The second most important quality for the President is the ability to lead the diverse constituencies we call Oberlin College — and have good relations with faculty.
How do you feel about the proposed standardization of teacher evaluation forms?
At first I was concerned. Now I think it will work fine.