Tag Archives: supreme court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia Addresses Aspiring Lawyers

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and lexicographer Bryan A. Garner spoke to USF law students about ethics and the art of pursuading a judge. (Photo courtesy of Shawn Calhoun)

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and lexicographer Bryan A. Garner spoke to USF law students about ethics and the art of pursuading a judge. (Photo courtesy of Shawn Calhoun)

Security was high last Friday, Jan. 31, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and lexicographer Bryan A. Garner presented the keynote address for the 2014 USF Law Review Symposium, “Legal Ethics in the 21st Century: Technology, Speech, and Money.”

Scalia and Garner discussed their latest book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” and gave advice on “the art of persuading judges” to USF law students in the audience.

Despite the high security upon entering the event and the formal attire of the attending law community, the symposium took a casual tone as Scalia and Garner relayed their advice in a conversational manner. Justice Scalia, advising law practitioners in the art of the oral argument, suggested, “master[ing] the use of the pause.” Garner followed jokingly with, “Yes, but the problem with the pause is the judge might actually ask a question during that time.”

A major theme of the symposium was the ethical conduction of law.

In his introduction, Dean of the School of Law John Trasviña said that USF’s focus on Jesuit education helps create “ethically legal professionals,” a virtue also emphasized by Scalia and Garner. “It’s the ethical responsibility as a lawyer to be the best lawyer you can be,” Garner said.

Scalia, the longest-serving Supreme Court justice, is no stranger to Jesuit education — he graduated from the Jesuit Georgetown University in 1957, according to Georgetown Law. Justice Scalia said he tries to be “as perfect as his heavenly Father” in his work as a Supreme Court Justice. “Jesus Christ was not a sloppy carpenter,” he joked, in reference to his meticulous approach to serving a now 26-year term.

When asked why USF was chosen as the symposium location, Trasviña said, “The bar association in San Francisco reached out to us — we have a strong partnership with them. And I think Justice Scalia, coming from Georgetown, feels a particular kinship to USF.”

Along with discussion of ethical law, Justice Scalia offered practical advice. He asked, “Why do lawyers write so badly?” After allowing a moment for his audience to mull the question over, he answered, “they read nothing but judicial opinions. You’ve got to read the ‘good stuff.’ You’ll hear a lawyer speaking and he’ll say something like, ‘the aforesaid…’ We have a perfectly good word for replacing [the aforesaid], and it’s ‘THAT,’” said Scalia, referring to the unnecessary use of complicated language by lawyers attempting to write eloquently. “Clarity is paramount,” Garner added.

The symposium was conducted for the benefit of students and professionals in the law community; however, the values that Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner discussed can be seen as beneficial lessons from any point of view.  “I could have used pretty much all of those points for my classes — public relations or public speaking,” USF communications studies professor Brian Vannice said.

According to USF law student Miles Maurino, Justice Scalia has “been in the majority opinions for some of the most catastrophic judicial decisions our country has seen.” Noting that Scalia has consistently advocated for conservative opinions over the years — opinions that have fundamentally changed our country—Maurino added, “while he demands respect as such a high ranking government official, some of his opinions have had very bad, far reaching effects on our country.”

Senior communication studies major Erin McCroskey attended the symposium for her “Public Relations: Law and Ethics” class. “I called my mom earlier and told her I was going to see Justice Scalia speak today. She said, ‘Oh my God, you never get that kind of opportunity — I hope you take notes!’” McCroskey said.

Another point of advice Justice Scalia gave law students is to “assume a posture of intellectual equality.” He noted that a judge has only spent a fraction of the time looking at a case compared to the lawyer who knows the information inside and out after working on the case for months. Therefore it is important to present the case as someone on equal intellectual grounds as the judge. Justice Scalia shook his head and concluded, “Sucking up doesn’t work.”

Make your point and make it well — and then move on. Scalia told students, “Don’t beat a dead horse. Don’t let a dead horse beat you.” If something is presented adequately, he said, it will not be necessary to reiterate the information — and doing so can make your case seem weak.

Justice Scalia also urged the law community to “treasure simplicity.” The most persuasive arguments are often the simplest ones, and using tactics to dress up a case can make it seem less credible. “Banish figurative language,” Garner added.

USF Law student David Angelo attended the symposium as well.    When asked what brought them to the event, Angelo said, “He’s an important figure, you gotta hear what he has to say whether you agree or not.”

USF Hosts California Supreme Court Hearings

To commemorate the 100th year of USF School of Law, the Supreme Court of California was invited to hold three cases to be deliberated at USF on Feb. 5,  including medical marijuana in Riverside county, plea bargaining, and the death penalty.

The event was held to give the public a better understanding of the way the state’s justice system works, as well as allow the students to participate in a question and answer session with the Justices. The hearings attracted hundreds of students, professors, and other legal scholars from all over the Bay Area.

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said the session would “provide a group of law school and local high school students with a unique opportunity to question Supreme Court justices and to experience their constitutional democracy in action, and hopefully will inspire some to a career in public service.”

Due to the growingly contentious debate of medical marijuana possession and distribution, the case involving this topic received special attention from the bulk of university students. In the first hearing of the City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., the debate revolved around the recent ordinance that the city of Riverside passed which outlaws medical marijuana dispensaries, defining them as a “public nuisance.”

In 1996, the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) was enacted by voters that allows California citizens to use marijuana for medical purposes if they are deemed seriously ill. The court was debating whether or not Riverside’s recent ordinance violates the statewide act.
Jeffrey V. Dunn was the defendant representing Riverside and the appellant involved in the case. An appellant in someone who applies to a higher court for reversal of a lower court decision.  J. David Nick, is the primary attorney for the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. Nick, who graduated from the USF School of Law in 1991, has been practicing law for the past 20 years.

“The court’s decision is going to determine the future of medical marijuana outlets throughout California. State law cannot be contradicted by local municipalities,” Nick said.

The second case involved a process that is used to resolve criminal charges in California and is known as plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is used by the defendant in order to give them a lesser charge so they don’t have to go to trial.
The defendant Dallas Sacher involved was charged with primarily theft-related felonies and misdemeanors. He argued to not go to trial because he was already given one strike within the parameters of the Three Strikes Law, which says that if the defendant is convicted of three felonies, they are sentenced to life in prison on the third strike.

In a bargaining process such as this, the court is not allowed to agree upon any bargain because it is based on the decision of the prosecutor. In this People v. Clancey debate, the issue was whether or not it was proper for the court to become involved in the plea bargaining process.
The last case concerned George Brett Williams, who was found guilty for the murder of Willie Thomas and Jack Barron in Los Angeles on January 2, 1990.
At the previous trial, there was no police officer that Williams had worked with as an informant, so he thought the trial would have resulted in a more favorable outcome, even though his fingerprints were found in the room in which the victims had been shot as well as on the truck where the victims’ bodies were dragged.

The importance of these cases being present on the USF campus rings true for students after the hearings took place. Franky Peterson, a sophomore legal studies scholar said she was extremely grateful she was granted access to the event. “USF School of Law is already nationally renowned and I think this helped bring attention to our strong interest in both legal action and social justice,” he said.
Being that these cases were preliminary hearings, final decisions remain to be seen.

To follow the cases, go to www.courts.ca.gov/opinions, which releases the opinions of the Supreme Court once a consensus has been made, about 90 days after the hearing.

40 Years since Roe v. Wade, Some Still Determined to Halt Progress

This week marked the 40th  anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and affirmed that people with a uterus have the right to choose what’s best for them in conjunction with their doctor, without the interference of politics. However, this weekend also marked the “Walk for Life” march in San Francisco, in which hundreds of anti-abortion activists toted pictures of babies and religious icons. When I walked past the march, I noticed that, while there were many women, the majority of the participants were cisgender men. In fact, the current president, John Paul Dugyon, of USF’s anti-choice group ‘Students for Life’ is a cisgender male. What I don’t understand is why people without a uterus are trying to tell me what I can and cannot do with mine.

Although it’s been established that access to abortion is a legal right, there continues to be a squabble over reproductive health care despite the fact that it’s been proven that having access to those medical services is good for both individuals and society writ large. In fact, a study conducted by UCSF confirmed that women who are blocked from having abortions are far more likely to wind up below the poverty line, unemployed and dependent on public assistance. They were more prone to staying with their partner, but also more likely to have experienced domestic abuse and feel less positive about their relationship. However, having an abortion doesn’t have a negative impact on mental health, and the vast majority of those that do have an abortion feel it was the right decision even after the fact.

People are at liberty to choose whether or not they want an abortion. It’s not my business what you choose to do with your body, nor is it anyone else’s. However, seeking to eliminate that right is an active attack against anyone with a uterus. Consider the death of Savita Halappanavar, the woman in Ireland who died due to being denied an abortion because public policy dictated that the fetus that was killing her was more important than her life. Think on the hundreds of thousands of other women across the globe who have suffered and continue to die under similar circumstances or by seeking unsafe ’back alley’ abortions when they don’t have adequate and unfettered access to the health care they need. To those who call themselves pro-life, I implore you to look in the eyes of someone who could potentially want an abortion at some point in their life and tell them you want them to significantly harm their own chances at living a prosperous, happy and healthy life for the sake of a microscopic group of cells.