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. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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