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. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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