In an era when the Supreme Court of the United States is pushing more cases back down to the lower courts, the power of a United States District Court Judge to enforce the constitutional rights of cases that come before him or her is paramount. Recognizing this, the University of Miami Law Review (UMLR) recently hosted its annual symposium titled “Leading From Below.”
Bringing together six prominent jurists from across the country, as well as a handful of law professors, “Leading From Below” examined the role and procedural tools of the federal district court judge. Additionally, the symposium examined the scope and limitation of the judges’ discretion.
“We envisioned this symposium as an opportunity to explore the role of lower courts in enforcing your constitutional rights,” said McKillop Erlandson, UMLR’s Projects Editor and symposium organizer. “We could have not been more pleased with the level of discourse.”
Attended by nearly 400 students and practitioners, “Leading From Below” featured four panels examining access to justice, structural reform litigation, criminal procedure in the courtroom, and judicial fact-finding. It then closed with a roundtable discussion whose participants included five of the federal judges that had been in attendance, moderated by Professor Ricardo Bascuas, recipient of the University’s Faculty Senate Teaching Award.
Praised by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer as a “living legend,” the Honorable Senior United States District Judge Jack B. Weinstein served as the keynote speaker. Throughout the two-day symposium, Judge Weinstein emphasized that judges should write opinions without thinking about how an appellate court will react to their opinions and consider that their decisions have the largest impact on the parties before the judge.
“I was honored to meet all of the judges and professors, especially Judge Jack Weinstein. Judge Weinstein is a legal legend, and the opportunity to discuss the role of a judge with him was invaluable. With almost 50 years of experience on the bench, his experience and insights are indispensable to us as students and practitioners,” said Logan Haine-Roberts, a third-year law student and Senior Notes & Comments Editor for the UMLR.
Judge Weinstein was not the only judge present for the symposium, as he was joined by the Honorable United States District Judges Jack Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York, Lawrence Karlton of the Eastern District of California, Shira Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York, and Kathleen Williams of the Southern District of Florida, as well as retired Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California. Between them, these judges have more than a century’s worth of experience and have authored decisions striking down California’s Proposition 8 and New York’s stop-and-frisk policy.
“It was a truly humbling experience to be in the presence of such esteemed judges, especially because they were so comfortable engaging in debate with one another,” said second-year Miami Law student Sara Solano.
Throughout the symposium, the judges weighed in with their thoughts from the audience. The symposium closed with a discourse between the judges in response to questions from the audience.
“This symposium truly exceeded our expectations. To bring together such distinguished judges and professors from across the country for a discourse on their role and discretion for Miami Law students is something that we set out to do from the moment that we started planning the symposium,” said Kelly Heard, UMLR Editor-in-Chief. “Seeing the impact that it had on the hundreds of attendees from the University of Miami and the larger community was an honor.”
Founded in 1947 as the Miami Law Quarterly, the University of Miami Law Review is a quarterly legal journal committed to publishing articles of interest to legal scholars and practitioners. Composed of four separate issues, UMLR publishes one volume per year. One issue is named the Eleventh Circuit Issue and consists of pieces exclusively analyzing the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.