Over 450 federal judges and their guests came to Washington, D.C., for the Federal Judges Association’s 10th Quadrennial Conference May 1–3, 2022. For most, it was the first in-person conference since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The conference began with a welcome reception and book fair featuring the work of Justice Stephen Breyer and many of our judicial colleagues. People then divided into small groups for dinner at a variety of D.C. restaurants as part of our Dine-Around. After dinner, people returned to the Omni Shoreham Hotel for an author talk and a movie discussion. Judge Susan Oki Mollway of Hawaii spoke about her book, The First Fifteen: How Asian American Women Became Federal Judges. Judge Mollway interviewed several of the judges featured in the book. In the movie discussion, Jeffery Robinson, former ACLU deputy legal director and CEO of the Who We Are Project, showed excerpts from his movie, Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, and discussed how it was made.
Monday morning, the conference officially opened with a dynamic presentation by Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy. Mr. Stevenson told several moving stories of his work for equal justice and how the federal judiciary serves such a crucial role in providing justice.
Over lunch, we were treated to a wonderful interview of world-renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin by a former student and longtime friend, Judge Patti Saris. Ms. Goodwin spoke about the leadership lessons learned from “her guys”—Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. The obvious rapport between Judge Saris and Ms. Goodwin led to a terrific conversation that showed Ms. Goodwin’s tremendous knowledge and ability to tell a story.
Monday’s panel discussions looked at Implicit Bias, Judicial Security (moderated by Judge Richard Sullivan and with moving remarks from Judge Esther Salas), Virtual Litigation, and Civics Education. That evening, we traveled to the beautiful Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, where two of our colleagues—Judge Ada Brown of Texas and Judge Lauren King of Washington State—spoke to us about their Native American heritage and the development of federal Indian law throughout American history.
Tuesday’s sessions were about gratitude: gratitude for public service, for opportunity, for the rule of law, and for the FJA. The day started with a moving tribute to the late Chief Judge Robert Katzmann’s profound contributions to civics education delivered by his twin brother, Judge Gary Katzmann. We then celebrated the high school winners of our essay and video contests. View the winning essay and video here.
The rest of the morning was devoted to celebrating the career of Justice Stephen Breyer. A panel of former Breyer law clerks (led by Judge Vince Chhabria) described what it was like to clerk for Justice Breyer, and Judge Saris added some stories from when she and Justice Breyer were on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Sen. Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts. Other former Breyer clerks were also in attendance, including Gary Katzmann and our newest confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Justice Breyer was then interviewed by NPR’s Nina Totenberg, who tried to get him to comment on recent Supreme Court stories about leaked draft opinions, the so-called “shadow” docket, and other hot topics.
We then moved to a panel on misinformation, disinformation, and the role of the federal courts in times of turmoil. Dahlia Lithwick, Slate senior editor, moderated a discussion among academics and judges on what the federal courts can do to get their decisions out in a clear and timely manner.
Finally, we had a chance to show gratitude for the FJA on its 40th birthday by recognizing the important work it has done for making salaries and benefits better for Article III judges. As part of the celebration, videos of our past presidents have been posted on the FJA website.
Our last event was our traditional White House visit. While circumstances did not permit a formal reception or personal greetings from President Biden, the White House opened its doors to us for a private tour that featured music from the renowned Marine Corps Band. It was a wonderful end to a great event.