SCOTUS visits fascinating

April 8, 2010
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Reporter Michael W. Hoskins wrote this post.

You can always expect a legal community showing when one of the nation’s top jurists visits. That was the case Wednesday when Chief Justice John Roberts made his way to the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis.

He was the fifth justice from the Supreme Court of the United States to visit the school in some capacity during the past decade, the third since 2002 as part of the ongoing James P. White lecture series. The others were: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2002; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2007, and now the chief justice. Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke at the law school dedication in 2001, while Justice Samuel Alito visited in September 2007.

In my own experience, I’ve managed to see and hear four justices speak since moving to Indiana six years ago – Justices Ginsburg, Alito, O’Connor, and now Chief Justice Roberts.

Justice Ginsburg focused on the historical role of women in the courts and Chief Justice Roberts focused on the high court’s historical evolution in the past century. Justice Alito came as part of a different event to discuss the sometimes-stressed relationships between Congress and the courts. Justice O’Connor spoke about globalization, saying, “Understanding international law is no longer a specialty, it is a duty. We will rely increasingly on foreign and international law in resolving domestic legal questions.

Personally, I heard her speak last year at a St. Joseph Bar Association event in South Bend about judicial independence and merit selection– a topic that she’s passionately focused on in her retirement.

While I’ve not personally witnessed Justice John Paul Stevens speak, he is a regular visitor at the 7th Circuit Conference and Bar Association annual meetings and often talks about his experiences and the past year’s happenings. Last year, he wasn’t able to attend the event in Indianapolis.

All were interesting and fascinating events to attend, with a high-ranking roster of Who’s Who from the Hoosier legal community at both state and federal levels. But by comparison, Chief Justice Roberts seemed to offer less substance than those in the past. It seemed to be more of a show than a substantive speech. Growing up in Indiana, Chief Justice Roberts spent little time addressing the current conditions or more pressing issues of the time as some of his colleagues have done.

He also touched on his Hoosier roots, and it was noted that his first real legal job was as a summer clerkship at Indianapolis firm Ice Miller.

Obviously, neither he nor the other visiting active justices could talk about specific cases or legal issues they might someday face. But the Q-and-A session following the lecture brought some interesting tidbits, as he talked about his Midwestern roots and how that impacts the courts, his thoughts about possibly sitting in designation at the trial court level, and even a point about the possible retirement of longtime Justice Stevens, who could soon announce whether he plans to retire this year. That latter point was that Justice Stevens’ retirement could be happening “soon,” though there was no expansion on that.

One of the most intriguing questions came from U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the Southern District of Indiana, who asked the chief justice about whether he’d ever consider presiding over a case at the lower level.

“To be fair, I wouldn’t do it in a million years,” he said, noting that his predecessor had done it.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided over a Virginia case and was later reversed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. But the chief justice said what bothered his predecessor the most wasn’t the fact that he was reversed but that the appellate court had done it in a per curiam decision so no one had signed their name to it.

If he were ever to sit in designation at the District level, Chief Justice Roberts said he’d want a civil case and not a criminal case. From his appellate experience, he’d want to avoid sentencing and mandatory minimum sentences that he viewed as “gut-wrenching” decisions for a judge to decide.

Still, despite what any particular justice talks about during their presentations, it’s always a pleasure to hear from someone who sits or has sat at the nation’s highest court.
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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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