During the previous weeks, an old story about a lawyer who argued a case before the Supreme Court has come to my mind. This was a lawyer who had never argued a case before the court before. And when the argument began, one of the justices said, "How did you get here?", meaning how had his case worked its way up through the court system. But the lawyer was rather nervous and he took the question literally and he said, "I came here on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad."
I have often asked myself, "How in the world did I get here?" And I want to try to answer that today. I got here in part because of the community in which I grew up. It was a warm, down-to-earth community. Most of the adults in the neighbourhood were not college graduates.
After I graduated from high school, I went a full 12 miles down the road, but really to a different world when I entered Princeton University. A generation earlier, somebody from my background probably would not have felt fully comfortable at a college like Princeton.
This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities. And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.
Of course, I have been shaped for the last 15 years by my experiences as a judge of the court of appeals. When I became a judge, I stopped being a practising attorney. And that was a big change in role. The role of a practising attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand. But a judge can't think that way. A judge can't have any agenda, a judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case and a judge certainly doesn't have a client.
The judge's only obligation - and it's a solemn obligation - is to the rule of law. And what that means is that in every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires.Reuse content