Lawrence Tribe is an American constitutional scholar and the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at the Harvard Law School. A longstanding proponent of liberal jurisprudence, in 2001 Tribe helped found the American Constitution Society a supposed liberal counterweight to the conservative Federalist Society and was long considered a possible Supreme Court nominee by a Democratic administration. Tribe received his A.B. in math from Harvard in 1962, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1966. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart from 1967-1968 and became an Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard in 1968, where has taught ever since. A fierce critic of many recent Supreme Court decisions, Tribe has argued over thirty cases before the Court, including the infamous Bush v. Gore in 2000, and is the author of Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes, American Constitutional Law, and co-author of On Reading the Constitution (with Michael Dorf). He is also a former Professor of President Obama and current supporter.
Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Laurence Tribe: You know I . . . If I could say that the glass was exactly half full and half empty rather than having to choose one or the other, I would be inclined to do that. I mean the world has seen so many unpredictable transformations that to be either optimistic in the sense that this is the best possible world and all will be well, or pessimistic in the sense that the worse will happen I think would be wrong. I don’t remember who told the particular joke, but it was the . . . the optimist says, “This is the best of all possible worlds,” and the pessimist says, “I think you’re right.” I don’t know whether I’m an optimist or a pessimist. Temperamentally I’m optimistic. Temperamentally I think that nuclear bomb is not going to go off in a populated American city. Temperamentally I think somehow we’re going to get a handle on global warming. Intellectually I’m much more cautious and pessimistic. I think the signs aren’t there that we’ve developed the leadership and the inclinations to take a longer view. The signs aren’t there that we’ve controlled this dangerous material. The odds are something terrible will happen. But whether my heart will dominate or my mind will dominate as I cast my eye on the long-term future is hard to say. I mean I think that when I spend time with my grandchildren, I’m optimistic. When I look at the smog in some cities and look at the pictures of the melting icecap, you know then I tend to be pessimistic. This doesn’t generate any long-term overall view. I think somebody once said that if you learn to live by the crystal ball you better eat ground glass and like it. And you know so I don’t have any real predictions.