Judge George Anagnost moderates the We the People panel, Sept. 17, 2014. He gestures toward panelists Bob McWhirter and Doug Cole.

Judge George Anagnost moderates the We the People panel, Sept. 17, 2014. He gestures toward panelists Bob McWhirter and Doug Cole.

Last week, I attended the annual “We the People” CLE program, which gathers smart folks and lets them loose on the most recent High Court Term. The follow-up was complete and often enlightening.

Paul Bender, Doug Cole and Bob McWhirter offered insightful and often humorous takes on a wide variety of the cases taken by SCOTUS. Led by moderator Judge George Anagnost, they were a formidable intellectual team.

(I appreciated Professor Bender’s unintended error when he misquoted the opening words for the Court’s day: “God save the United States from this honorable Court.” Who doesn’t agree with that occasionally?)

And yet I continue to wonder about the marrying of content with the panelists who discuss it. I have covered this topic—diversity—before, and so let me mention it again.

As always, the cases explored by the panel touch on nearly all areas of human experience. But, as an example, how would the treatment of even one case—Hobby Lobby—have varied had there been even one woman scholar on the panel? Some closely held businesses apparently are untroubled by any medical product or procedure save one—and that one affects women most of all. Would a woman scholar’s view have offered a different, compelling vision?

Of course, I do not believe that all women—or all of anyone—think the same way about legal topics. But, conservative, liberal or in between, a woman panelist may have taken more than an academic interest in the issue.

Professor Paul Bender, seated, at the We the People panel, Sept. 17, 2014.

Professor Paul Bender, seated, at the We the People panel, Sept. 17, 2014.

The same is true of the Shelby case regarding the Voting Rights Act, or the Schuette case regarding affirmative action, or the McCullen case regarding abortion-clinic buffer zones, all ably examined. A mandatory number of African American scholars, or women, per panel is not what I’d expect. But their complete absence is surprising. (Imagine attendees’ surprise if they walked in and saw an all-woman panel, or an all-Black panel. THAT would be news!)

Adding to the oddity of the absence of diversity was the extended discussion on that very topic by the panel. Professor Bender, for example, took pains to note that all of the current Supreme Court Justices have had professional lives as professional judges, rather than some form of law practice (except for Justice Kagan). And he and others noted that the Court may be diverse in some ways, but not in socio-economics, or geography, or even religion (currently, the Court has no Protestants, six Catholics and three Jews).

An attendee could be excused for feeling some disconnect, sympathetic to the desire to see a diverse bench, while at the same time looking around the very room in which we sat …

Bob McWhirter presents at the We the People panel, Sept. 17, 2014.

Bob McWhirter presents at the We the People panel, Sept. 17, 2014.

Again, and in advance of the usual commenters who will say this is window-dressing (or worse): This is about excellent legal education, and a topic on which the State Bar of Arizona has pledged its focus. I found the discussion to be first-rate, but how can we know all of the excellent diverse commentary we are missing? A consistent absence of diverse voices on legal topics that disproportionately affect those very voices is odd, at best. And it makes you wonder if you are getting a full and complete examination of the issues underlying a Supreme Court docket.

That, after all, is what is promised.

OK, have at it in the comment box below.

Arizona Bar Foundation logoOn Friday, I received the announcement below from the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education—or the Bar Foundation, as we sometimes say for short.

I have participated in many of their fantastic programs, where their people are the best in the world. Anyone who signs on as an event planner with the Foundation is bound to have a marvelous time—and do quite a bit of good for Arizona and civic engagement.

The following job posting may describe you. Or it might describe someone you know well. Feel free to pass it on.

Here’s the job:

Great at planning events? Are organization and communication two of your strengths? If yes, we have an opportunity for you!

The Arizona Bar Foundation is looking for individuals with excellent event planning skills to plan, implement and host our We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution competitions and/or Project Citizen showcases. Eligible candidates must have effective communication, organization and logistical planning skills; however, it is not a requirement to be a We the People or Project Citizen teacher.

For more information and to complete a proposal, please visit the Competition Regional Coordinator Call for Proposals here.

For questions, please contact Jennifer.Castro@azflse.org. Thank you!

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.

What’s the best antidote to the slow stew you feel when your desk is overloaded and there’s no end in sight?

Get up from your desk, of course. Leave the office. And volunteer at an event hosted by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education.

That’s exactly what I did last Thursday, and I’m still living off the residual good karma.

We the People is an incredible program in which schoolkids demonstrate their grasp of difficult, thorny constitutional issues. It requires months of study and teamwork, and it culminates in front of mock panels of Congressional leaders. That’s where I and others come in.

But those amazing performances are preceded by some pretty impressive foundational work by their teachers. In fact, to have your class take part in the grueling competition, the schoolteachers have to go through it themselves first.

That’s what last week was about. We Congress-folk listened, cajoled and questioned the teachers, who had spent a lot of their free time learning what We the People takes. And they were terrific.

Their performance makes me look forward even more to the school year, when some of the best of Arizona’s youth will show their chops in regard to the U.S. Constitution.

Thanks to the Foundation for letting a law geek like me take part. As always, it was a privilege.

Click here to see some more pictures on the Arizona Attorney Magazine facebook page.

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.