February saw a majority of the Supreme Court justices escape Washington for warmer weather.
On February 6, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the Rathbun Lecture on a Meaningful Life at Stanford University, where she encouraged students to “do something outside yourself.” “Something to repair tears in your community,” Ginsburg elaborated. “Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself, but for one’s community.” Full video of the event is accessible at Stanford’s YouTube page.
Ginsburg next traveled to Hawaii, where she served as the US Supreme Court Jurist-in-Residence at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law from February 8-12. A short video of her visit is available online.
While in the Aloha State, the justice also took time to speak with local high school students participating in a “Courts in the Community” program. According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, one of the students asked Ginsburg about immigration, to which she replied: “I think of the US as a place that welcomes people from abroad who want to work and who are yearning to be free. It’s disheartening to see that there are some people who don’t agree with that view who think our borders should be closed. But it’s not the first time in U.S. history that has happened.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands to take part in the territory’s celebration of the Transfer Day Centennial. On February 8 and 9, she participated in two events hosted by the District Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands – one held on the island of St. Thomas, and one on St. Croix. Sotomayor received an honorary doctor of laws degree and spoke at a student convocation at the University of the Virgin Islands on February 9. “There is more than one way to fight discrimination,” she told the audience. “Discrimination exists for different reasons, is expressed in different ways, and therefore needs to be addressed in different ways.” The Virgin Islands Consortium provides a summary of the event.
Meanwhile, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Samuel Alito spent some time in Southern California. Kennedy spoke at an Association of Business Trial Lawyers event on February 9. Alito gave the keynote speech at the Chapman Law Review’s Annual Symposium on February 10. A brief summary and pictures are posted on Chapman University’s website.
Two justices accepted awards on February 11: Alito received the Statesmanship Award at the Claremont Institute’s 2017 Annual Dinner in honor of Sir Winston S. Churchill, while Justice Stephen Breyer was honored with the Tau Epsilon Rho Law Society’s Benjamin Nathan Cardozo Memorial Award in Sarasota, Florida. There, Breyer kept his remarks vague and apolitical, answering a question about President Donald Trump’s temporary immigration ban by saying, “I’m interested and I’ve read some of the things, some of the papers involved.” The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that Breyer was also asked for his reaction to Trump’s comments about the judiciary, to which he responded, “I have no thoughts that I would express.”
On Valentine’s Day, Kennedy decried the current state of civic discourse while speaking at the California Civic Learning Summit 2.0 in his hometown of Sacramento, calling it “intemperate, irrational, hostile, divisive, insulting, unprincipled.” To avoid being interpreted as singling out certain government officials, the Sacramento Bee writes, Kennedy made sure to clarify that he was not referring to “political dialogue.” “I’m talking about our whole culture of dialogue—reviews of movies, comments on books, advice for young people. We have a duty to show that democracy works through a discourse that’s exciting and admirable, that’s inspiring.”
Also on Valentine’s Day, Alito headlined a Federalist Society “fireside chat” in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
There were a few February events that did not take place in warm-weather locales: On February 11, Justice Clarence Thomas gave the keynote address at the Yale Law School Federalist Society’s conference celebrating his 25 years on the Supreme Court. Yale Daily News has a recap of Thomas’ surprise appearance.
Breyer returned to Boston to participate in a February 13 French Cultural Center discussion about courtroom art. In a very Breyer move, the justice spoke in French for the entirety of the event. Photos from the night are available on the French Cultural Center’s Facebook page.
At a February 23 Newseum event in Washington, Ginsburg offered a cautiously optimistic assessment of today’s political climate. “I would say that we are not experiencing the best of times, but there’s hope in seeing how the public is reacting to it.” According to CNN, Ginsburg had this to say about Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit: “I think he is very easy to get along with. He writes very well.” Additional coverage comes from the GW Hatchet.
Looking at the justices’ March events: