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January 03, 2020 Appellate Judges Conference

AJC Chair's Column

By Hon. Albert Diaz, Charlotte, NC

The 16th annual Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI) Summit is now in the books, and it was (in a word) spectacular. A record crowd of over 400 gathered in our nation’s capital to partake in a feast of outstanding programming for those who analyze, argue, and decide appeals. 

The program put together by Summit Chair Judge Sam Thumma and his stellar planning committee was often provocative and challenging, and always stimulating.  Associate Justice Neal Gorsuch opened the summit with a fascinating conversation (moderated by Judge John Sparks) that explored the Justice’s confirmation journey, as well as his views on originalism, textualism, and the role of the judiciary in reviewing agency decisions.  Over four days, summit attendees engaged with and learned from each other and, as always, there was ample time for networking and socializing.

The program ended with a preview from Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman on what is to come in 2020, when the summit heads to Austin, Texas from November 12-15.  The DC summit was over-subscribed; I anticipate a similar buzz will descend over the “Live Music Capital of the World,” so mark your calendars now! 

For the past three years, Duke Law School’s Bolch Judicial Institute has served as our summit co-host.  I’m pleased to report that beginning with the 2020 summit, the National Judicial College will succeed Duke in that role.  I want to express my deepest appreciation to Duke and its staff for going above and beyond in support of AJEI’s mission.  We will miss Ann Yandian and Lora Beth Farmer (among others from Duke’s staff), but look forward to a new and exciting partnership with NJC.

For those who can’t wait until next November to get their Austin fix, please come to the Texas capital from February 12-17 for the ABA Midyear Meeting.  Registration is free for ABA members, and there will be plenty of outstanding CLE programming and networking opportunities.  Among the highlights is the Judicial Clerkship Program, which introduces diverse law students from around the country to judges and law clerks and educates them as to the life-long benefits of a judicial clerkship.  The Conference has been a stalwart supporter of the program, and we urge you to help us mentor the bright young minds who are the future of our profession.

Our Conference has maintained steady growth in our numbers, even as the larger ABA has faced membership challenges.  The ongoing implementation of the ABA’s new membership model, which simplifies—and in many cases lowers—annual dues while enhancing member benefits, shows promise.  Separately, however, Judicial Division members have for years been able to take advantage of the ABA’s Public Service Group Membership program, with a rock-bottom annual rate of $135 for both ABA and JD dues.  The ABA recently approved an expansion of the group membership program to allow formation of groups from the membership of national or state associations.  This is an exciting opportunity to grow our membership ranks, which of course is the lifeblood of all that we do as a conference.  If you have questions about membership, please contact AJC membership chair Justice Laurie McKinnon.

I close with two remembrances.

Don Dunner, who so ably served as the AJC’s liaison to the Board of Governors, passed away on October 16.  Don was a giant in the bar of appellate patent lawyers, arguing more cases before the Federal Circuit than any other lawyer.  Don also cared deeply about the independence and integrity of the judiciary.  And he was a tireless advocate for the AJC.  I always appreciated Don’s sage counsel on how best to press the Conference’s interests before the Board of Governors and the larger ABA.  The profession has lost one of its finest.

Mark Cady, Chief Justice of Iowa, died unexpectedly on November 15.  Chief Justice Cady was perhaps best known for his 2009 opinion for a unanimous court in Varnum v. Brien, holding that Iowa’s Constitution required that the right to marry extend to same-sex couples.  Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who spoke at Justice Cady’s memorial service, described him as “soft-spoken but strong, smiling but serious about his work, learning but laughing, distinguished, exceptional, respectful, and humble, and most of all beloved.”  Justice Hecht’s tribute to his friend describes traits to which many aspire, but few achieve.  We mourn the Chief Justice’s passing.  

Hon. Albert Diaz

Hon. Albert Diaz

2019-2020 AJC Chair