Wrap up of NCSC’s Judicial Excellence Events in Washington, D.C.

NCSC’s annual Fall Events are a collection of meetings with chief justices, judges, state court administrators, attorneys and general counsel from around the country. The featured event is the William H. Rehnquist Award dinner at the U.S. Supreme Court. If you couldn’t attend NCSC’s 2018 Fall Events, here’s some of what you missed…

Michigan District Court Judge Elizabeth Hines, who is well known for her work with domestic violence cases, received the 2018 William H. Rehnquist Award, the highest honor a state court judge can receive. At the award dinner, Judge Hines was praised for treating everyone in her court with dignity and fairness.

At a “Conversation with the Chief Justices,” the chiefs discussed the recent attacks on judicial independence. “The issue of judicial independence being undermined is something we really need a lot of help with,” Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady told an audience of lawyers. Lawyers can be a great resource to the judiciary in helping to educate the public about the role of the judiciary and publicly defend judges when they are attacked.

At the annual recognition luncheon, five people were inducted into the Warren E. Burger Society: California Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker, retired Exxon Mobil lawyer Jack Balagia, retired New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Kansas lawyer Forrest James Robinson Jr., and Mary McClymont, formerly with the Public Welfare Foundation. Also, NCSC President Mary McQueen said in the runup to NCSC’s 50th anniversary in 2021, the National Center next year will begin to reach out to judges, lawyers and others to “review what justice should look like in the next 50 years.”

This year’s Justice Roundtable focused on artificial intelligence, which was defined as “a machine that displays intelligent behavior, such as reasoning, learning and sensory processing.” Gary Marchant, an Arizona State University professor, presented a handful of hypotheticals about what happens when artificial intelligence tools – such as autonomous cars and apps that identify cancerous moles -- don’t work the way they should. How will the courts respond to artificial intelligence-related lawsuits? A few people said common law will evolve, as it has done in the past. Others said the new technology will require new regulations. A representative from IBM who works with Watson AI said the industry prefers to regulate itself.

The Lawyers Committee Business Meeting also featured technology-related presentations, including one on the attacks the United States faces via social media from Russia and other adversaries. The attacks extend to the judiciary, said Suzanne Spaulding of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Russia, she said, “is using divisive issues to erode public confidence in the justice system.”  

Jim Robinson, a new Burger Society inductee and member of NCSC’s Lawyers Committee, hosted a tour of the Americans and the Holocaust exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Robinson and his father, a World War II veteran who participated in the liberation of a concentration camp in Germany, have donated photographs, political buttons, a Hitler pin cushion and other items to the museum for the exhibit.