Law students receive lecture from chief justice of US
Law students need to spend more time thinking about the topics they study, and worry less about writing or typing every word their professors say, the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts said to answer a question that was asked following his delivery of the Henry Family Lecture Tuesday at the OU College of Law.
Roberts’ speech at the College of Law was the eighth annual Henry lecture, Robert Henry said in his introductory remarks.
Henry is the chief justice for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and cousin of Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry. His family sponsors the lecture series.
“You got into law school at Oklahoma because you are bright minds,” Roberts said. “And yet, when you enter a law school class, everybody becomes a stenographer. You’re either typing away, or writing notes, trying to get down every idea ... law students don’t spend enough time thinking.”
During the question-and-answer period, Roberts said he also is trying to increase salaries for federal judges. He said the salaries of judges are low when compared to the salaries of attorneys in the private sector, which makes it difficult to recruit top legal professionals to the judiciary.
In 2008, federal bankruptcy and magistrate judges made $151,984, while the chief justice of the United States earned $217,400 salary, according to a July 28, 2008 Senate report on pay for legislative, judicial and executive branch officials. An entry-level salary for an associate at a top U.S. law firm ranges from $140,000 to $160,000, according to a Jan. 24 New York Times article. Partners at those same firms can make more than $1 million annually, according to a Jan. 2, 2008 article on slate.com.
Roberts said the pay disparity between the private and public sector made it particularly difficult to recruit top minority candidates to the federal judiciary, since many of those attorneys are not only supporting their immediate families, but members of their extended family as well.
Roberts also fielded a question regarding the pool from which potential Supreme Court justices are chosen. All currently sitting Supreme Court justices, including Roberts, served on U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals immediately before being tapped to serve on the Supreme Court.
He said that could be a good thing, because Circuit Court justices have experience writing opinions and other things Supreme Court justices do. However, since the justices all have similar legal backgrounds, that may “narrow the Court’s perspective.”
Sandra Day O’Connor was the most recent judge to ascend to the Supreme Court from somewhere other than a U.S. Circuit Court, Roberts said. Her biography on the Supreme Court’s Web site stated she served on the Arizona Court of Appeals prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court.
Roberts also faced a question about oral arguments in cases. Oral arguments are not a right for parties with cases in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and are only granted at the court’s discretion, according to the rules of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Roberts said he did not want to address oral arguments in other court systems, but he said oral argument was vital to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision-making. Cases are “not usually” won with oral argument, but he said it’s also not rare for it to happen.
“It’s a very important part of our process, and I’d hate to see it diminished,” he said.
Roberts’ lecture focused on Abraham Lincoln’s five appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court: Nathan Clifford, Noah Swayne, Samuel Miller, David Davis and Salmon Chase. Chase filled the chief justice slot left by the death of Roger Taney.
“Back then, [chief justice] was considered a desirable position,” Roberts said.
He said one of the most important accomplishments of Lincoln’s appointments was restoring the Court’s stature following both the Dred Scott decision and the Civil War.
Dred Scott v. Sanford held that African-Americans could not be U.S. citizens and invalidated the Missouri Compromise, a legislative plan designed to limit slavery, Roberts said.
“The Dred Scott decision deeply tarnished the Court’s reputation,” he said.
Roberts’ lecture concluded the College of Law’s Centennial celebrations, Coats said. The college opened in 1909.