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SCOTUS chief visits law school as part of lecture series

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The chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was warmly greeted by a full house April 7 at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis at the annual James P. White Lecture on Legal Education.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s discussion was just two days before Justice John Paul Stevens announced he would retire from the court when the session ends this summer.

Gary Roberts, dean of the Indianapolis law school, said he was unsure how or if he was related to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. when he welcomed the audience to what he quipped was the second-toughest ticket in town that week, after the NCAA men's Division 1 championship basketball game of Butler vs. Duke.

A capacity crowd of approximately 250 prominent members of Indiana's legal community participated in the discussion in the school's courtroom while about 120 students watched a simulcast of the event as part of their class, and 50 other students, alumni, and faculty were in an overflow room watching the simulcast as well. Not to mention anyone who was watching a live webcast of the event.

C-SPAN also was on hand to film the discussion, which will likely air on the cable channel a few times in the coming weeks and eventually will be available on its Web site.

In his introduction, Chief Justice Roberts also pointed out various audience members, including Indiana Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals and trial court judges, federal judges, various I.U. executives, the mayor of Indianapolis, the Indiana attorney general, and the lecture's namesake, a retired law professor who is known around the world for his work in the field of legal education.

During the lecture about the history of the court - comparing the Supreme Court of 2010 to 1910 and explaining the changes along the way, Chief Justice Roberts explained how these changes have, over time, strengthened the judiciary, including the public's perception of it.

For instance, the current federal courthouse wasn't built yet in 1910, and the court would meet in the Capitol Building instead. But having the architectural separation makes a difference when maintaining the ideal of the separation of powers of the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches, the chief justice said.

The architectural separation was also maintained recently when it was discussed whether there should be a way for visitors to go from the Capitol to the Supreme Court using underground tunnels. It was ultimately decided that visitors would need to physically leave the Capitol and cross the street to avoid any confusion that the two were closely linked.

He also explained the change in trial procedures including the length of time for oral arguments: in 1910, each side had 90 minutes. Currently, an entire oral argument lasts an hour.

It was also around 1910 when what is now known as the Brandeis Brief was first used when then-litigator and later Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis started using social science data and other reports in his legal briefs, which hadn't been done before then.

In 1910, when the court had a caseload of more than 1,100 cases, he said, the court was required to make a decision about every case appealed to them. It wasn't until 1925 that former president and then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft convinced Congress to relieve SCOTUS from this requirement so they could only focus on cases with national significance. Today, the court grants cert to only about 150 cases each year.

Following his history of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts took questions from the audience.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker asked if he would ever consider taking on a U.S. District Court case by sitting in designation, and if she offered him her entire docket, what would he choose.

He answered that he wouldn't do it "in a million years," but he would prefer a civil case because he wouldn't want to handle a criminal case where he would need to stick with federal sentencing guidelines.

He also told the story of how his predecessor William H. Rehnquist missed working at the trial level and presided over a case in the Eastern District of Virginia. He added then-Chief Justice Rehnquist was annoyed not that the 4th District Court of Appeals overturned his ruling but that the court didn't sign off on the decision so he didn't know who overturned him.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller asked the chief justice how his Indiana roots have affected him; Chief Justice Roberts was raised in northern Indiana and was a summer clerk for Ice Miller while a student at Harvard Law School.

"I'm very proud of my Midwestern roots," he said, adding people from the Midwest have a "certain openness" and prefer a "unifying approach" to disagreements.

Chief Justice Roberts said he was able to see the handwritten notes of Abraham Lincoln for the only time Lincoln argued before the SCOTUS, adding that Lincoln had remarkable penmanship.

Other audience members also asked if he thought judges were treated like celebrities, to which he replied that Judge Judy might be a celebrity but he isn't; if he thought he approached his role in ways he didn't think he would before becoming chief justice, to which he replied he hadn't; and if he still stood by his analogy of the chief justice to that of a baseball umpire, to which he replied that he did.

After addressing the courtroom audience, Chief Justice Roberts spoke with students who watched the simulcast in the overflow room and answered eight of their questions, according to Elizabeth Allington, director for external affairs for the law school. Earlier in the day, he met with students in their classes and had lunch with faculty members.

The chief justice is the third Supreme Court justice to speak at the annual lecture and the fifth SCOTUS justice to speak at the law school in the last nine years.

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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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