Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, Feb. 14, 2012 (photo by David Sanders, courtesy Arizona State University College of Law)

Last week, I mentioned a program put on by the Law Journal at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. It examined the Arizona Constitution and the role the state’s Supreme Court has played in shaping it.

It was well attended, so perhaps a few readers managed to be there in person. (I still am waiting on an answer about whether the video taken at the event will be available to one and all.)

The panel discussion was terrific and ably moderated by Professor Paul Bender. In an upcoming issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine, we will publish an article by him that examines a number of the issues discussed on the panel.

But time’s a-wastin’. Today and tomorrow, let me provide some event photos. Today, the Constitution panel. Tomorrow, the Maricopa County Courthouse Tower dedication.

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How does a state Supreme Court shape a state’s constitution?

That may sound an odd question, for the constitution likely preceded the supreme court. That and other brain-teasers will be addressed in a seminar tomorrow, sponsored by ASU Law School.

The event will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 14, Arizona’s statehood day, in the Jury Assembly Room of the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse on 401 W. Washington St. in downtown Phoenix. It is open to the public.

A panel of distinguished scholars and practitioners will explore “The Arizona Supreme Court and the Arizona Constitution: The First Hundred Years.” Among the things they will discuss are what elements make Arizona’s Constitution distinct. And what role has our Supreme Court played in forming the state and interacting with the Constitution.

Paul Bender

All of the panelists are writing an article for an upcoming special issue of the Arizona State Law Journal.

The panel will be moderated by ASU Law Professor and Dean Emeritus Paul Bender. The panel will be:

More on the panel discussion is here.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch speaks at the We the People competition, Jan. 6, 2012, at Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Ariz.

“What I don’t know is a lot,” ran through my head many times last Friday. That’s when I sat as a volunteer judge in the state finals of the We the People competition.

WTP is a remarkable program put on by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education. It brings together a large group of high school students, who compete on school teams to demonstrate their stuff in regard to the United States Constitution.

On Friday after the judging was complete, I remarked to a high school teacher (whom I later noted had coached the top team) that the kids were amazing and truly talented—so much so that I was feeling a bit unschooled as the long day wore on.

If you’re ever feeling the slightest bit apprehensive about the depth of today’s youth, stop by WTP. That’ll fix ‘ya.

At lunchtime, the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Rebecca White Berch, stopped by to praise the kids and to remind them of the state’s Centennial. In that effort, she said, the Court had helped create “Behind the Laws & Decisions,” a DVD box set that includes documentary series detailing Arizona’s history and court cases. The project was made possible by the Arizona Supreme Court, McCune Television, National Bank of Arizona and the Foundation.

More information on the DVD set is here.

I have posted some more photos at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Example of stonework to be used in Arizona memorial to the Bill of Rights.

A belated birthday greeting goes out this morning to a document that means a lot to every person in the United States. That document is the Bill of Rights.

Like many important events, this one sneaks up on us unawares every year. But on December 15, the Bill of Rights celebrated its 220th birthday.

Though the event was last week, I think it’s important enough to blow out a few candles even today. And I know just the person to help do it: Chris Bliss.

Among his many attributes, Chris Bliss is the Executive Director of a nonprofit called MyBillofRights.org. The group’s goal is to erect a monument in every state’s capitol to the founding document. And I’m happy to say, Arizona is on track to become the first of the 50 to do so.

Last week, Chris penned an op-ed piece on why we should care about the Bill of Rights and its birthday. He opens:

“Two-hundred-and-twenty years ago today on Dec. 15, 1791, something happened that changed history forever. Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights, becoming the 10th state to do so and thus making it part of the Constitution.

“The ways this changed history were myriad, foremost among them by preserving the fledgling new country called the United States of America, after the Articles of Confederation had failed.

“Today, 220 years later, the Bill of Rights remains the heart and soul of who we are as a people and why America remains an inspiration to those everywhere seeking their liberty. Its ingenious balance of personal freedoms and political principles has proved both dynamic and durable, becoming one of history’s most important and influential documents as the global road map for basic human rights.”

You should read his entire essay here.

Chris Bliss

A few weeks ago, Chris stopped by the State Bar of Arizona to explain his group’s mission. He seeks to get the word out to the entire state, and wants to be sure to include Arizona’s lawyers and judges. He believes—correctly, I think—that they would recognize the value in a historic document that maps out rights in a concise and compelling way.

More detail about the organization and their Arizona plan is here.

As a humorous aside, this past weekend, I ran into Chris in downtown Phoenix, where we each were attending a play. By chance, the play focused on the Arizona debate over ethnic studies in the Tucson schools.

At one point early in the play, a character mutters the imprecation, “Constitution, schmonstitution!” There was perhaps no one who laughed more heartily at that curse than the ED of MyBillofRights.org.

Hon. George Anagnost

On this Monday morning, I’m pleased to send thanks and congratulations to Peoria Presiding Court Judge George Anagnost. That man knows his way around the Constitution—and a CLE.

Last Thursday’s “We the People” symposium was mentioned here before (here and here), and I emphasized it because it had all the inklings of a great event. It did not disappoint.

The panelists were each terrific, and they kept a packed room engaged on elements of constitutional law, history, policy and politics.

Today, though, I reserve special plaudits for Judge Anagnost. More than a moderator, he shared a voluminous knowledge of the subject before and between the visiting speakers. He is an educator’s educator.

One example was the big Bowl of Knowledge that brought surprise and more than one case of nerves to the audience. The bowl contained the names of audience members, and Judge A. would occasionally draw a name and ask that person to stand. He would then ask them a constitutionally related question:

  • Three Supreme Court Justices joined the Court immediately after serving as a state governor. Who were they?
  • What are the names of the Justices on the Arizona Supreme Court?

And so on. I don’t think I heard one correct response during the day (the queries were pretty obscure at times), but following each wrong answer, the Judge praised the speaker’s tenacity and awarded a Supreme Court tote bag.

Hmmm. Things really are different on the West side.

Now, before you write, I mean that in a good way. Here’s one more example: The Judge wore a boutonnière—and had at the ready a similar corsage for every panelist. Which they wore.

Now, I cannot be sure that every speaker was enchanted with the idea of wearing a corsage. But the Judge’s sense of ceremony and courtesy were infectious, and everyone came out smelling like a rose (or a carnation, as the case may be).

The Judge also compared the Constitution to another love of his: chess. He recounted a famous quotation: “Chess is a sea in which a gnat may drink and an elephant may bathe.” The Constitution, too, he pointed out, may provide a placid surface to the world, but excursions into it and its scholarship yield immense and complex riches.

Adding levity, he reminded attendees as they exited for a break—a la jury admonitions—“Do not form an opinion about the quality of this seminar until it has been completed.”

The Big (Blue) Bowl of Knowledge: Partially obscured but forever a beacon

So the next time you sit in a CLE and find your mind wandering, ask yourself this: How much better would it be if corsages and a Big Bowl of Knowledge were shared around? What seminar would not improved by a tote bag, or surprise quizzes offered with a smile?

As the Judge pointed out, symposium comes from the Greek for drinking party. At the Peoria CLE, there was no hootch. But there were high spirits. Well done.

More photos from the event are at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Today I bring you a nearly-last-minute reminder about a great event where you may listen, learn and mingle. Best of all, it includes a terrific panel of people who are coming to town to talk to you about the U.S. Constitution.

I wrote about tomorrow’s event before, but one or two of you may have missed it, so click here for more information (and some great photos of the panelists).

And you really do need to click here to register for the seminar. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Please, PLEASE, don’t tell me “It’s way out in Peoria.” That is a wee bit annoying, for a few reasons. First of all, many people (including Bar members) live in or around Peoria. As our Founders would say, those people are pursuing their own version of happiness, and they don’t need anyone to tell them otherwise.

Cookies may be present tomorrow, but no promises.

There is another reason that comes to mind for why complaining about a little drive to your CLE is weak sauce. Let’s see: The Hohokam built the canals, probably with their own hands. (Cue the violins.) The pioneers lived in dusty shacks that let in the heat and the cold when neither was welcome. (Enter bass drum.) The state’s industrialists and laborers both did their part to carve the sixth-largest metropolitan area out of rock and worse. (Crescendo.)

And we? We must drive an extra 10 minutes in our air-conditioned vehicles to hear wise people speak on stimulating topics, and where lunch and cookies will be served.

(OK, I am totally guessing on the cookies part, but roll with me.)

In summary: You could attend for yourself and the pleasure and knowledge it will give you. Or you can attend for the Hohokam.

Your choice. See you tomorrow.

Panelists Dean Toni Massaro, Ted Cruz, Linda Greenhouse and Hon. Neil Wake

I never had the opportunity to sit down with the Founding Fathers at a Constitutional Convention. But last Friday, I—and a roomful of others—got the next-best thing.

That was the day in which the University of Arizona Law School celebrated Constitution Day. And they did it in the manner they do best—through mind-blowing smarts. Bravo.

Their plan, executed flawlessly, was to gather a distinguished panel of experts who could decipher Supreme Court and other cases. These cases, it was believed, could serve as a bellwether for the direction the Court was heading. Or not. Remember, panelists always reserve the right to point out that your mileage may differ from their prognostications.

The moderator did his part to keep the panel and the audience roused to a passionate and insightful pitch. In introducing each case in its turn, Professor David Marcus dispensed with a simplistic issue recitation in favor of crafting mini-vignettes. Each was a whirlwind, more tour de force than simple tour.

The effort and delivery he put into those moments signaled that the panel would be something out of the ordinary. I suspect, for instance, that those gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Constitution on September 17, 1787, would have rollicked quite a bit at Professor Marcus’s musings. Those gathered in a law school classroom certainly did.

Panelists, too, did their part to make the Constitution come alive (not that they all agreed it was “a living document”). The speakers were: former law school Dean Toni Massaro, esteemed Supreme Court advocate R. (Ted) Edward Cruz, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (and now Yale Law Prof) Linda Greenhouse, and federal district court judge Hon. Neil Wake.

During a break, I spoke with an influential Arizona lawyer, and he marveled at the talented panel that the school had gathered. “Just listening to them,” he said, “I feel like I don’t know that much.” My writing hand and I agreed.

You can see some of what I tweeted that day (search for the hashtag #UAConstitution). I think they give you an idea about the wide-ranging conversation. What a tweet may not capture, however, is the breadth and passion of the panelists’ conversation. Those things came to the fore more than once, as the lawyers struggled to dissect the reasoning of a Court thrust into the public more and more often.

One point of the conversation may illustrate that.

Professor David Marcus

Judge Wake noted that Justice Scalia could be pointed in his opinion-writing, and he was disappointed that Justice Kagan had signaled a willingness to engage also in such muscular judging (my term, not Judge Wake’s).

Dean Massaro agreed, adding that the tenor of the Court is worsening, and that the benefit of pausing before engaging appears to be a declining art on the Court.

“The whole Court is becoming snap, snap, snap,” said Massaro. “When the Wall Street Journal says isn’t it great that Scalia is ‘delightfully brutal,’ it is no surprise that Justice Kagan may join in.”

She reiterated that point when she suggested that perhaps the Court would do well to take a pass on the lawsuits regarding the national health insurance reform law that are working their way toward the marble steps. (Judge Wake removed himself from the panel for that portion of the conversation.)

“The Court should restore a sense of the value of passive virtues. Leave the case alone for now.”

Disagreeing was Ted Cruz, who stressed that he hoped the law was found unconstitutional as soon as possible. He, Massaro and Greenhouse differed on whether the Court would—or should—find the law’s individual mandate unlawful.

Cruz said, “To uphold it would be to change us from a government of limited powers to a government of general powers.”

We shall see whose view a Court majority values. In the meantime, congratulations to the Law School for a stellar event.

More photos are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

(I wrote about this panel discussion last week. Read it here.)

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