Judge Stephen A. Higginson makes a case for the primacy of lawyers in judicial proceedings

On October 23, Judge Stephen A. Higginson of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit presented the 2017 James Madison Lecture. In “James Meredith, Muhammad Ali, and Lieutenant William Calley: Cases and Controversies Before the Fifth Circuit,” Higginson examined three landmark cases: Calley v. Callaway, where the Fifth Circuit upheld William L. Calley’s court martial for his role in the My Lai massacre; Clay v. US, Muhammad Ali's successful appeal of his conviction for refusing to report for induction into the armed services; and US v. Barnett, which centered on the integration of the University of Mississippi. He outlined the role lawyers played in shaping judicial opinion. “It is the lawyer that compels the court to assist and bear the burden of the Constitution,” he stated.

Select remarks:

“Madison said that he wasn’t the father of the Constitution because it was the work of many heads and many hands…there is truth in that. Many heads and many hands continue to write our Constitution and write the decisions that I issue and my courts issue.”

“The work lawyers do, I want to try to make an argument for you, is indivisibly connected to the decisions we issue. If there is any one interpretive method that explains what judges do, you just have to peel back and see who was the compelling lawyer behind it. Even though lawyer attribution largely remains invisible, I think that’s changing. The problems come when there’s judicial overreach, when judicial ego or judicial celebrity or a single interpretive mindset resolves a case.”

Watch the full video of the event (1 hr, 17 min):

Posted November 2, 2017