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April 23, 2024 Appellate Judges Conference

AJC Chair's Column

Hon. Laurie McKinnon, Helena, MT

The “programming arm” of AJC, the Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI), has been very busy planning for its 2024 Summit in Boston on November 14-17 at the Westin Boston Seaport District Hotel.  In partnership with the National Judicial College (NJC), the AJEI will host the Summit from Thursday afternoon until midday Sunday in the historic and culturally rich city of Boston.

In addition to keynote speakers, tours of Boston attractions, and a Saturday night reception with entertainment, the Summit features premier appellate education for both appellate judges and appellate attorneys.  This year’s Summit Chair, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, began planning and organizing the 2024 Summit in January, holding bi-monthly meetings with the 30-member AJEI Education Committee.  The Committee, with their capable partner NJC, has developed a host of cutting-edge programs designed to enhance practical skills, stimulate thought and discussion about our justice system, and connect participants to leaders in justice.

As always, Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the School of Law at University of California, Berkeley, will analyze the Supreme Court’s decisions over the past year.  There will be a program commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most significant pieces of legislation since Reconstruction.  On the Act’s 60th anniversary, this distinguished panel will explore its legacy and meaning today.  Another panel will highlight the role of lawyers in defending unpopular causes.  Captain William Prescott, in March 1770, ordered his troops to open fire on Boston protesters.  John Adams put his reputation on the line to defend Captain Prescott, serving as an early demonstration of equal justice under the law.  This program will reenact key parts of the trial and the need to defend, under the law, even those causes that are unpopular.

A panel will discuss the role of state courts within the shifting dynamics of federal constitutional law.  The U.S. Constitution was designed in part to solve problems that arise in all states by providing a uniform announcement of rights for all citizens.  Recent Supreme Court decisions such as Dobbs have changed the dynamics and put issues normally decided on a national level within the purview of state courts to be interpreted based on state constitutional law.  This panel will delve into these issues and examine what authority the Supreme Court has reserved for itself should it want to review a decision by a state’s highest court on a question of state constitutional law.  Another panel will explore the increasingly important role of state attorneys general in our national landscape, as they advance legal challenges to federal policies.  Panelists will address the mechanics behind state involvement in federal litigation – including the evolving problem of standing. 

An independent judiciary is a pillar of our democracy.  Yet, the judiciary’s independence is constantly under attack and criticized by politicians, the public, and the media. The Education Committee is working on several programs that examine threats to judicial independence and transparency of the judiciary.  The panels will examine whether transparency is improved by allowing cameras in the courtroom, providing free access to public dockets, and disclosing more information about a judge’s personal life, such as finances.  Also, social-media influences, online publications, and traditional media outlets bring appellate courts to the public, creating a new level of transparency in the appellate system.  A panel will explore whether strong and protracted media coverage enhances transparency.  Finally, “the press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring fulfillment to the public’s right to know.”  Can the media facilitate public understanding of what courts do and enhance the integrity and independence of the judicial branch?  Also, are adversary nations eroding public trust in the American legal system? These questions and more will be examined.

Another panel will address whether, as a profession, we stand firm, shift, or stop diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Students for Fair Admissions.  The Education Committee also wants to further the discussion of how to treat the LGBTQ community respectfully in the courts and facilitate an understanding of the LGBTQ community.

In addition, there will be numerous breakout sessions covering law and linguistics; practical, policy, and constitutional implications of fines and fees footing the bill of justice; shaping the record for appeal; e-briefing; an oral-argument primer; and appellate judges’ sua sponte exercise of decisional discretion. 

Please mark your calendars for the 2024 Summit in Boston this November 14-17.  Registration will be available on the National Judicial College website, and scholarships will be available for a limited time.

I look forward to seeing you there!

    Hon. Laurie McKinnon

    2023-2024 Chair, Appellate Judges Conference

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