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February 16, 2024 Appellate Judges Conference

AJC Chair's Column

By Hon. Laurie McKinnon, Helena, MT

I am pleased to announce that the AJC and the Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI) had a very successful Summit in Washington, D.C., from November 2 through November 5, 2023. The event was attended by approximately 400 judges and lawyers, who were able to learn from the numerous and varied discussion panels and speakers. I want to thank Hon. J. Michelle Childs, Judge, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, for her excellent leadership skills and direction in chairing the Summit. She was truly amazing and inspiring with her energy and ideas.

Judge Childs conducted a “Fireside Chat” with Hon. Brett M. Kavanaugh, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Their conversation was both insightful and informative about the operations of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Kavanaugh also spoke of his childhood, influences in his life and career, and the comradery amongst the justices.

Another highlight of the Summit was Judge Childs’ interview of Hon. Elizabeth Prelogar, United States Solicitor General. Hon. Robert Edmunds, Associate Justice (Ret.), North Carolina Supreme Court, also participated in the interview. The Solicitor General talked about her career, her family, preparing for oral argument, oral argument itself, and effective brief writing.

Other panels and discussions at the Summit included a plenary session on the use of historical facts in caselaw; a Supreme Court review of recent cases and preview of upcoming cases; a session on diversity, equity, and inclusion and on using the bench and bar as a pipeline; and a presentation from Dr. William Meinecke, a historian with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and author of Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust, published by the Museum in 2007. Summit participants were able to attend a lecture and tour at the Museum and at the Supreme Court.

As always, one of the highlights of the Summit was Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Dean Chemerinsky analyzed the Supreme Court’s decisions over the past year, both civil and criminal. Dean Chemerinsky can recite facts, rules of law, prior precedent, and how members of the Court voted on any issue without a single note or reference. He is truly amazing and received a standing ovation.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Sunday morning panel that discussed civil rights. The Hon. Frank Sullivan, Jr., Justice (Ret.), Indiana Supreme Court, moderated while Professor Bobby J. Donaldson, University of South Carolina, Department of History, enlightened listeners of Dr. King’s thoughts and decisions in delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech. Similarly, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was ably discussed and handled by Hon. Frank Williams, Chief Justice (Ret.), Rhode Island Supreme Court. The parallels between Dr. King’s speech and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address were highlighted by the panel, and the question was presented whether this nation has really come that far in advancing civil rights.

There was an abundance of breakout sessions designed to cover a plethora of issues and interests for both judges and lawyers. And a final session on the ethics of recusal and disqualification for both lawyers and judges featured panelists Professor Marin Levy from Duke University School of Law; Professor James Sample from Hofstra Law; Hon. Mark Martin, Chief Justice (Ret.), North Carolina Supreme Court, and Dean of High Point University School of Law; and Hon. Bernice Donald, Judge (Ret.), Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In all, the Summit provided a great opportunity to see old friends, meet new judges and lawyers, participate in a premier judicial appellate education, and enjoy the sights of this Nation’s capital. We have been so fortunate in our partnership with the National Judicial College, which has enabled AJC and AJEI to present such an outstanding program. Without our friends at the National Judicial College, the Summit would not have been as successful.

I am very much looking forward to the Summit in Boston, Mass., from November 14-17, 2024, at the Westin Boston Seaport District. I hope to see everyone there.

Hon. Laurie McKinnon

2023-2024 Chair, Appellate Judges Conference

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