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.)

The attacks on the Goldwater Institute continue unabated.

As I’ve written about before (here and here), the Goldwater Institute has gone hammer and tongs after what they characterize as a bad deal for taxpayers, Arizona, Glendale residents, and all the best values as we know them. Their fight is in regard to Glendale’s efforts to keep the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team in that city.

Goldwater smells quite a bit of the giving-away-the-farm odor, all to benefit a private entity. That would be a violation of the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause, the Institute claims.

But to mix sports metaphors, hockey supporters have mounted a full-court press—against the Goldwater Institute.

(Today’s Arizona Republic has a story about the Coyotes’ travails. Read it here.)

I wondered last week about the strange melding and churning of self-interest that leads someone to support one side in the battle.

On the one hand, you might very well enjoy hockey. Or at least you may like having hockey as a dynamic part of a vibrant package that keeps Glendale hopping.

But on the other hand, you may want your city officials to get the best possible deal when they’re waving your tax dollars around. And here and across the country, city councils have a poor record of that; they are known to give away far too much to private entities that threaten to pull up stakes, even when it’s unlikely they will.

So in a “don’t waste-my-tax-dollars” sense, I’d expect the Institute’s position to be a bit more popular than it has been. But in the PR war over the Coyotes, rank-and-file residents have been rallied pretty effectively to mount the barricades in support of the team’s owner (or maybe it’s more accurate to say they’ve been rallied to keep the team in the city).

What I have not heard (and what I think I expected) is a groundswell of thanks or support to the Institute for looking out for how public money is spent.

And maybe that says something about residents of any city. No one wants money wasted. But they do want development to occur. And if a little gifting occurs along the way, perhaps residents are OK with that.

Yesterday, I was driving in what I think is northern Glendale (we were on Happy Valley Road west of the I-17—you tell me). There, I spotted an SUV with its windows chalked with a message: “Keep the Coyotes in Glendale.” Next to that was the imprecation “Say no to Goldwater.”

On the passenger side of the car, the owner had drawn the universal symbol for “No,” a circle with diagonal line, with the word “Goldwater” in the center.

Pretty inside-hockey, if you ask me. I’m not sure how many drivers will understand the news items drawn on the car. But if I’m right, more and more will understand it as the media blitz comes to a head.

First-place winners: Hamilton High School

On January 12, I once again got to sit as one of the lucky judges on the We the People competition (I wrote about it here). That’s an annual event where middle school and high school kids bring their well-developed smarts to a gathering and display their knowledge of the United States Constitution.

The students never fail to impress, and that was the case this year, as well.

We’ve received news of the schools’ rankings that day. They include the top three finishers overall, as well as the top team for the various units that comprise the textbook covering the Constitution:

  • First Place: Hamilton High School, Team 4, Room 131
  • Second Place: Corona del Sol, Team 7, Room 135
  • Third Place: Marcos de Niza, Team 2, Room 103
  • Fourth Place: Lake Havasu High School, Team 10, Room 233
  • Unit 1 Award: Prescott High School, Team 9, Room 232
  • Unit 2 Award: Gilbert Classical Academy, Team 1, Room 101
  • Unit 3 Award: Skyline High School, Team 8, Room 231
  • Unit 4 Award: Maricopa High School, Team 6, Room 105
  • Unit 5 Award: Rio Rico High School, Team 5, Room 133
  • Unit 6 Award: Red Mountain High School, Team 3, Room 230

Desert Sands Middle School students

Hamilton High School

will represent Arizona at the National Competition in Washington, DC, on April 30-May 2, 2011.

Congratulations to all of the students. And thanks to Susan Nusall at the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. She not only coordinates this massive event, but she puts up with some of us annoying judges and our pestering questions. Well done, Susan.

For more on the We the People program, see the Foundation’s website. Or Like the WTP Alumni Network on Facebook (no, you don’t have to be an alum).

Here are a few more photos (most courtesy of the terrific Foundation staff):

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I have heard more than one person say that they are pretty much “done” reading any further analyses of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. And I sure sympathize with that view.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Since the attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the news chatter has been unrelenting, and the facts that we learned were largely horrifying. It will take quite some time to determine what brought a 22-year-old man to commit murder on a sunny Saturday morning. Until then, some may say, we should leave the families to grieve. They may be right.

And yet, I had to wonder at my own reaction, which I believe was shared by many. Why did this crime hit so close to home?

That may appear to be an offensive question. After all, six people were killed, and others are hovering somewhere between life and death. A man died sprawled across his wife, successfully saving her life as he gave his own. And a 9-year-old girl, eager to meet a Congresswoman, was savagely shot in the chest.

Isn’t that enough reason for this tragedy to hit home?

Well, yes, except for one thing. We are a violent country.

I know that the crime rate has been dropping over the past decade, but we still have grown accustomed to hear of weapons-related crimes that take lives and limbs. The news in the United States comes with such regularity, we simply file it in the “shooting-death” portion of our brains, and continue on. In our approach to crime and our uninterest in its consequences, we Americans paraphrase Robert Frost: “Good weapons make good neighbors.”

But this post is not about the weapons. It’s about our reactions. It’s not about ballistics, but about the increasing willingness to go ballistic in service to one’s own ends.

Judge John Roll

Shouldn’t we be horrified at any incident in which someone causes the death of another? Yes. But we now require “murder-plus” for it to register.

For me, this incident’s murder-plus may come from my (almost) middle age, and the experiences that half a century brings with it.

For instance, my wife and I have a 9-year-old daughter. The thought of kissing her goodbye as she heads out the door—which we do every day—and then to never see her alive again. It makes you double over in sorrow.

But the attacks on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Judge John Roll—they strike me for different reasons entirely.

One reason may be that they are (or were, in Judge Roll’s case) terrific people. Both have written for Arizona Attorney Magazine (Representative Giffords here, and Judge Roll here), and they were wonderful people to work with.

I knew John Roll personally, and he left you, every time, better off than before you saw him. According to news reports, he died a second after a friendly salutation had escaped his lips. That was Judge Roll.

But the honorifics before their names reveal another reason that their travails leave me stunned.

Understand, the lives of judges and Congress-folk are no more important than the lives of anyone else—not a jot. But a person of my age was raised on a nutritious diet of study—of history, of federalism, of the U.S. Constitution. We learned—and many of us still feel—that our government is OUR government.

So when a criminal attacks a judge and a member of Congress, he takes arms against all of us. When he ratchets up political dissent to transform it into a chambered round, and then sends his rebellion hurtling out the end of a gun barrel, he aims it at every American citizen.

The rule of law in the United States may be one of our most significant attributes. But its security is assailed when disagreement turns violent.

This Wednesday, I will be privileged to serve as a judge on the We the People competition sponsored by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. (The program is on Facebook—Like it here.) There, middle-school and high-school students will demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. Constitution. I have judged the competition before, and it’s always terrific.

But this year, as I sit and listen to some of the smartest kids our state has to offer, my thoughts—and that of my fellow judges—will be at least partly with Gabrielle Giffords and John Roll, who served us all, and gave so much for a Constitution and for the people whom it benefits.

Here’s hoping we continue to deserve it.

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