April and May were busy months for the Supreme Court Justices, as they crossed the country to adjudicate moot courts, deliver commencement speeches, and give remarks at judicial conferences.
Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Elena Kagan both traveled to New York in early April to serve as judges for moot court finals. Alito sat on the judges’ panel for the annual Irving R. Kaufman Memorial Securities Law Moot Court Competition at Fordham Law School on April 3, while Kagan helped adjudicate the final argument in the Orison S. Marden Moot Court Competition at New York University School of Law on April 4. While at NYU, Kagan also participated in a question-and-answer session, which The New York Times covered. Kagan complimented Chief Justice John G. Roberts for his leadership after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death: “I give great credit to the chief justice, who I think in general is a person who is concerned about consensus building, and I think all the more so now.”
Also on April 4, Alito participated in the Third Biennial Colloquium in Law and Religion at St. John’s University Law School. St. John’s has posted a report. Two days later, he spoke at a panel discussion for the Brooklyn Bar Association, where he defended the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. “[T]he vast, vast majority of political speech and speech on public issues that occurs in this country is corporate speech,” Alito stated. Law.com covered the appearance.
Alito also served as one of the judges for the final round of Columbia Law School’s Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition on April 7.
On April 8, Sotomayor gave back-to-back talks in New York, at CUNY Law School and Brooklyn Law School. Video of the CUNY Law School event is posted online, and a report on the Brooklyn Law School talk is available from The Wall Street Journal.
On April 11, Sotomayor spoke at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, employing her trademark practice of leaving her seat on the stage and walking up and down the aisles while answering questions. “It is not a sin to work for a corporation or to work for a big law firm or to make money,” Sotomayor told students. “It is a sin if you do these things without giving back to your community, if you do these things without volunteering, without using some of those resources, both the company you work for and your own, in helping public interest.” NJ.com covered Sotomayor’s appearance. Video is available online.
Also on April 11, Roberts spoke at the judicial conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Three days later, Sotomayor spoke at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Judicial Conference. Reporters were not permitted to cover Sotomayor’s speech.
On April 14, Justice Stephen Breyer followed in Sotomayor’s footsteps, participating in two consecutive events in New York. Breyer first delivered the luncheon keynote at the American Bar Association Section of International Law’s Spring Meeting. Breyer then traveled uptown to Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he gave the 2016 Gabriel Silver Memorial Lecture. Video of the lecture is posted on YouTube.
Justice Anthony Kennedy gave remarks at a Legal Services Corporation reception held in the Supreme Court building on April 19.
On April 25, retired Justice John Paul Stevens reminisced about his late colleague Justice Antonin Scalia at Washington University in St. Louis. Scalia had an “incomparably spontaneous sense of humor,” Stevens noted, though they often found themselves on opposite sides on the cases. The Wall Street Journal covered Stevens’s speech. A transcript of the speech is also available at the Supreme Court’s website.
Breyer closed out the Justices’ April events when he gave the Bernstein Lecture at Georgetown University Law Center on April 28. Breyer emphasized that the cases which the Supreme Court reviews seldom involve easy answers. “In general, the way these things work is the difficult cases in [the Court] are very rarely right versus wrong… Typically what happens is it depends on what the facts are in a particular case.” The Hoya has a report on Breyer’s talk, and full video is available online.
Judicial conferences for the United States federal courts of appeals featured heavily on the Justices’ May schedules. On May 2, Kagan and Stevens appeared together onstage at the Seventh Circuit Bar Association Meeting and Seventh Circuit Judicial Conference in Chicago. The Chicago Law Bulletin has a summary of the session, noting that Kagan declined to comment on the ongoing nomination battle over the Supreme Court vacancy, while Stevens noted his desire to see a new Justice confirmed by early next year. C-Span has video of the event.
Roberts and Alito both spoke at the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference, which took place from May 3 through May 5 in Arkansas. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the Chief Justice’s talk, in which he assured the audience that the eight-member Court is carrying on with business as usual. “Most of our decisions are not five to four. The number that are is pretty small. So the decision process is going on pretty much as it has been.”
On May 6, Justice Clarence Thomas participated in a question-and-answer session at the Eleventh Circuit judicial conference in Alabama. The Daily Report (registration required) covered the appearance.
The following week, Thomas was in Houston to deliver remarks at the judicial conference for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; since the death of Justice Scalia, he has been temporarily serving as the Circuit Justice for that circuit. Above the Law posted a report on the talk, in which Thomas recalled the grueling adjustment period after he first joined the Court. “I had no time to think or get mentally prepared. It was just a treadmill, like something out of Lucille Ball. By the end of my first Term, I was very ill.”
On May 25, Roberts sat down for a Q&A session at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference in West Virginia. Of his role at the Court, Roberts stated: “I try to achieve as much consensus as I can. We kind of have to have a commitment as a group. I think we spend a fair amount of time – maybe a little more than others in the past – talking about things, talking them out.” The Associated Press was at the conference to report on the Chief Justice’s remarks.
While her colleagues have downplayed the challenges of serving on an eight-member court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgexpressed disappointment with the situation at the Second Circuit Judicial Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, on May 26. “Eight, as you know, is not a good number for a multimember Court,” Ginsburg said. “When we meet at the Circuit Conference next year, I anticipate reporting on the decisions of a full bench.” Coverage comes from the Associated Press. A transcript of Ginsburg’s speech is available on the Supreme Court’s website.
In addition to judicial conferences, two Justices also gave commencement speeches (and received honorary degrees) this month. Thomas served as the speaker at Hillsdale College, urging the new graduates to lead by example and to focus on not only their rights as citizens but also their duties and responsibilities. After his speech, Thomas remained on hand to congratulate the graduates as they walked across the stage. MLive.com covered Thomas’s remarks. Hillsdale College has posted full video of the speech on YouTube.
Meanwhile, Sotomayor addressed the class of 2016 at the University of Rhode Island, where she emphasized that the “uh-oh” moments in life should be treasured alongside the “a-ha” moments. Sotomayor also spoke about the value of hard work: dreams do not come true “because of luck or innate talent. They come true only if you work hard to make them come true.” Rhode Island Public Radio covered Sotomayor’s speech, and video of the ceremony is available online.
Other events in May:
[Correction: An earlier version of this post did not include Ginsburg’s speech at the Second Circuit Judicial Conference on May 26.]