Several keynote speakers delighted the audience earlier on Thursday at the 73rd Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference in Detroit. During lunch, the conference attendees were treated to a whimsical talk by Professor Noah Feldman from Harvard Law School who discussed the battles and triumphs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great Supreme Court Justices. Professor Feldman explained how the four great justices appointed by FDR, who included Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, Hugo Black, and William O. Douglas, each developed their own unique judicial philosophies that still are reflected on the Court today and that will inform the Court’s upcoming decision on same-sex marriage. One of Professor Feldman’s most interesting discussions involved his overview of Justice Black, a former Ku Klux Klansman who became an absolutist advocate of civil rights and readily accepted being ostracized in his own community for voting with the Court majority in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
In an engaging presentation on the enduring legacy of the Voting Rights Act of1965, Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, explained how the Act led to a political realignment in the United States that opened up new opportunities for minorities. At the same time, Mr. Stevenson demonstrated how the United States still faces significant challenges in achieving racial equality. Mr. Stevenson was introduced by Sixth Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who played a video of a feature story from ABC News Nightline regarding Mr. Stevenson’s successful effort in securing the release of Anthony Ray Hinton who falsely had been imprisoned in Alabama for 30 years. Mr. Stevenson’s presentation earned him two standing ovations from the conference attendees.
Finally, at the dinner, Justice Kagan (the Sixth Circuit’s Circuit Justice) sat down for a candid interview with Chief Judge Guy Cole. This covered a range of topics, including her work on the Court, interpersonal relations with the Justices, and the Court’s role in our system. It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on the Supreme Court.
The Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference concludes on Friday morning with a presentation by Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the preeminent scholars in the United States on constitutional law and federal civil procedure.