Diversity of Experience: The Path to Becoming Chief

Diversity of Experience: The Path to Becoming Chief


FOGEL: I JUST WANT
TO START THIS BY SAYING WHAT A PRIVILEGE IT IS FOR ME
TO BE MODERATING THIS SESSION. THESE ARE 4 REMARKABLE PEOPLE. THEY’VE ACHIEVED
REMARKABLE THINGS. AND I AM THINKING BACK
TO A PROGRAM THAT CHIEF JUDGE COLE AND I
WERE AT LAST YEAR. IT WAS ABOUT THE LEGACY
OF RECONSTRUCTION. AND WE HAD PRESENTATIONS
BY HISTORIANS, AND WE HAD PRESENTATIONS
BY JUDGES WHO HAD THOUGHT ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 13th,
14th, AND 15th AMENDMENTS. AND THEN WE HAD
SOME PRIVATE MEETINGS AMONG THE JUDGES,
AND AT ONE POINT IN ONE OF THE PRIVATE MEETINGS, PEOPLE STARTED TALKING ABOUT
THEIR PERSONAL HISTORIES. AND IT WAS, I THINK,
IN MY ENTIRE JUDICIAL CAREER, IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST MOVING
THINGS I’VE EVER SEEN BECAUSE I LEARNED THINGS ABOUT
PEOPLE THAT I DIDN’T KNOW AND PEOPLE SPOKE
WITH TREMENDOUS PASSION ABOUT THEIR PERSONAL HISTORIES, BOTH AFRICAN AMERICAN
AND WHITE JUDGES AND LATINO JUDGES. SO, IT WAS JUST THE EFFECT
THAT GROWING UP IN AN ENVIRONMENT
WHERE RACE MATTERED AND WHERE PEOPLE’S BACKGROUNDS
WERE STRONGLY AFFECTED BY THAT, HOW IT AFFECTED
ALL OF US AS PEOPLE, AND IT WAS REALLY
QUITE COMPELLING. AND CHIEF JUDGE COLE WAS ONE OF
THE PEOPLE WHO TOLD HIS STORY AND I’M GOING
TO START WITH HIM, BOTH BECAUSE OF THAT
AND ALSO BECAUSE WE’RE GOING TO GO
IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER AND HE’S FIRST
IN THAT CATEGORY AS WELL. SO, GUY, LET ME ASK YOU,
YOU SAID– AND I’M GOING TO QUOTE
SOMETHING YOU WROTE TO ME– “PART OF GETTING ME
INTO THE LAW IS TIED TO BIRMINGHAM’S
TORTURED HISTORY.” SO, TELL US ABOUT THAT. COLE: IT WAS REALLY
IN THE CRUCIBLE OF THAT TIME PERIOD FOR ME THAT AS JUST THROUGH
THE EYES OF A CHILD THAT I CAME TO HAVE
A SENSE FOR WHAT I VIEWED AS FAIRNESS AND JUSTNESS AND WHAT’S RIGHT
AND WHAT’S NOT RIGHT. THERE WERE A NUMBER
OF KIDS, OF COURSE, WHO GREW UP
ON THE TOP OF THE HILL AND MANY OF THEM HAVE GONE INTO
LAW, MEDICINE, AND OTHER FIELDS. BUT THERE’S AN ARTICLE BACK IN
2005 IN THE “BIRMINGHAM NEWS” THAT NOTES, I THINK
IT WAS WRITTEN BY A GUY NAMED JOHN ARCHIBALD,
AND IT SAYS SOMETHING LIKE “JUSTICE ROLLS DOWN
FROM THE HILL.” AND IT NOTES THAT AT THAT TIME THERE WERE 6 PEOPLE FROM
BIRMINGHAM IN MY AGE RANGE WITHIN A 4-BLOCK AREA
WHO HAD BECOME EITHER FEDERAL OR STATE JUDGES. AND I DON’T KNOW IF THAT IS UNDER OR ABOVE THE SORT
OF NATIONAL AVERAGE, BUT SOMETHING TELLS ME
THAT’S ABOVE. IT WAS THE AREA
WHERE THERE WERE A NUMBER OF
CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS, THERE WERE BLACK BUSINESSMEN
AND DOCTORS AND DENTISTS, AND THE LAWYERS WHO WERE THERE
IN MANY CASES WERE VERY MUCH ACTIVISTS IN
THE CIVIL RIGHTS ARENA. ARTHUR SHORES, ABOUT WHOM
SEVERAL BOOKS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN, WAS A LAWYER WHO LIVED
A BLOCK FROM ME. HE WAS MARTIN LUTHER KING’S
ALABAMA LAWYER, SO TO SPEAK. OSCAR ADAMS, FOR ANY OF YOU
WHO ARE FROM ALABAMA, WAS THE FIRST BLACK JUSTICE
ON THE ALABAMA SUPREME COURT. AND THERE WERE SEVERAL OTHER
LAWYERS ON THE HILL, AS I CALL IT, WHO WERE JUST VERY ACTIVE IN
CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVITIES. SO, I GUESS, JEREMY, THAT’S
WHERE I GOT MY FIRST START. IT WAS AN AREA THAT WAS ROCKED, AS MANY ARTICLES THAT MANY OF
YOU HAVE PROBABLY READ INDICATE, BY BOMBINGS, AND THAT’S HOW IT
GOT THE NAME “DYNAMITE HILL.” ARTHUR SHORES’ HOUSE
WAS BOMBED I THINK 7 TIMES, AND THEN THE 16th STREET
CHURCH BOMBING THAT KILLED 4 YOUNG GIRLS– CYNTHIA WESLEY IS ONE OF THOSE
GIRLS WHO LIVED NEXT DOOR TO ME. CAROLE ROBERTSON WAS
ANOTHER YOUNG GIRL. THEY WERE 14 YEARS OLD
AT THAT TIME. BIRMINGHAM’S COME A LONG WAY, AND I’M VERY PROUD OF ITS
PROGRESS AND ITS EVOLUTION. I DO HAVE ONE OF MY BROTHERS
WHO STILL LIVES THERE, SO I GET BACK TO SEE IT
FROM TIME TO TIME. BUT I THINK THAT’S
PART OF THE PATH. AND I DON’T KNOW IF ANY OF
THE 6 OF US WHO BECAME JUDGES CAN REALLY POINT TO ANY ONE
THING ABOUT BIRMINGHAM THAT SORT OF LED US
ON THIS ROAD TOWARD BECOMING LAWYERS AND JUDGES. BUT IN THE CONVERSATIONS I’VE
HAD WITH A COUPLE OF PEOPLE, IT WAS JUST BEING A PART
OF THAT MOVEMENT AT THAT TIME THAT SO MANY PEOPLE,
BLACK AND WHITE, HAD TOWARD TRYING TO BRING
RACIAL JUSTICE TO BIRMINGHAM. GREGORY: BOTH PARENTS WORKED
IN THE TOBACCO FACTORY. I WAS THE FIRST PERSON
IN MY FAMILY TO GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL,
LET ALONE TO GO TO COLLEGE, AND THEN ON TO LAW SCHOOL. BUT MY PARENTS, THE PATHWAY
CLEARLY STARTED WITH THEM. THEY GAVE ME BROAD SHOULDERS. AND EVEN THOUGH I LIVED IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE,
IF YOU WILL, EVERYTHING WAS SEGREGATED,
SEGREGATED SCHOOLS. I THINK I STARTED SCHOOL
BACK IN 1959. I WAS JUST SO BLESSED EVEN WITHIN THAT CRUCIBLE
OF SEGREGATION BECAUSE HAD I LIVED
SOME 60 MILES TO THE WEST IN
PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, THAT WAS THE SAME MONTH
THEY STARTED MASSIVE RESISTANCE AND THERE WERE
NO SCHOOLS THERE FOR 5 YEARS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS. SO, I WAS FORTUNATE,
BUT I STARTED IN ’59, AND I REMEMBER HAVING OLD BOOKS
THAT WERE SO OLD I REMEMBER THERE WAS BARELY ENOUGH
ROOM AT THE BOTTOM FOR ME TO PUT MY NAME ON,
AND I ALWAYS THINK ABOUT THAT. I SAID, “I DON’T KNOW WHERE
THE PREVIOUS OWNERS ARE NOW “AND I HOPE THEY’RE
ALL DOING WELL, “BUT THANK GOD THAT LITTLE BOY’S
NAME WHO WAS ON THE BOTTOM IS ON THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
COURT OF APPEALS,” AND THAT’S NOT ABOUT ME, THAT’S
ABOUT MANY PEOPLE WHO STRUGGLE AND WHO BELIEVE IN THOSE DAYS
WHEN HOPE UNBORN HAD DIED, THAT SOMEBODY LIKE ME
COULD READ THE CONSTITUTION AND BOOKS ABOUT THE FULLNESS
OF THE AMERICAN DREAM AND ONE DAY I MIGHT BE
ABLE TO WALK IN THERE. BUT THERE WERE
SOME DIFFICULTIES. I REMEMBER IN THE PARK
THERE WERE BENCHES, AND AFRICAN AMERICANS,
BASICALLY, JUST YOU KEEP GOING. IF YOU WENT IN,
YOU DIDN’T SIT DOWN. BUT FINALLY WHEN THE LAW SAYS
YOU HAD TO, THE BENCHES WERE REMOVED
SO THAT NO ONE COULD SIT DOWN. AND I THINK ABOUT THAT
IN TERMS OF [INAUDIBLE] THOUGHT ABOUT THAT,
THAT PEOPLE HAVE A WAY OF FINDING COMMON GROUND, AND ANOTHER IRONY
IN THE SENSE THAT DIDN’T HAVE BENCHES
BUT NOW I SIT ON A BENCH. YEAH, BUT I THINK ABOUT
THAT SO MANY PEOPLE COULD’VE BEEN MANY THINGS. I TAKE SOME PAUSE WHEN PEOPLE
TALK ABOUT BEING A CREDIT OR AN ANOMALY OF RACE
OR OF PEOPLE. NOT AT ALL. THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE
MUCH SMARTER THAN I AM. IT’S JUST BECAUSE
OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES DIDN’T GIVE THE OPPORTUNITIES
AND I JUST FEEL SO FORTUNATE. AND LASTLY, I THINK
ABOUT A PATHWAY. I WENT TO
VIRGINIA STATE COLLEGE, WHICH IS A HISTORICALLY BLACK
COLLEGE IN PETERSBURG, AND MY MOTHER, WHEN
SHE WAS 16 YEARS OLD, SHE WAS A DORMITORY MAID
IN THAT SCHOOL, AND I THINK ABOUT THE TIME– MY MOM WOULD’VE BEEN
A GREAT LAWYER. SHE COULD ARGUE HER CASE,
NO QUESTION, AND BACK IT UP,
TOO, MANY TIMES, LITERALLY. BUT I THOUGHT ABOUT SHE DIDN’T
CURSE THE DARKNESS, INSTEAD SHE LIT A CANDLE, AND I’M PART OF THAT CANDLE,
AND MY JOB I FEEL THAT WHEREVER I AM TO LIGHT
THAT CANDLE FOR ALL PEOPLE– BLACK, WHITE, BROWN, YELLOW–
WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE, THAT THE FULLNESS OF JUSTICE
AND WHAT CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY
IS CAN BE INFLUENTIAL. JOHNSON: MY PARENTS ARE FROM ASCENSION PARISH,
DONALDSONVILLE, AS YOU SAID, AND A RURAL PARISH WITHOUT A WHOLE LOT
OF OPPORTUNITIES, SO A LOT OF FOLKS
WOUND UP IN NEW ORLEANS. AND I WENT TO SCHOOL THERE AND, OF COURSE,
THE SCHOOLS WERE SEGREGATED. WHEN I GRADUATED FROM
HIGH SCHOOL IN 1960, OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
WERE STILL SEGREGATED. AND I CAN STILL RECALL
GETTING ON A BUS ON ST. CLAUDE AVENUE AND PASSING
THE SCHOOL EVERY DAY, AND OUR TEACHER HAD ANNOUNCED
BROWN AGAINST BOARD OF EDUCATION WHEN I WAS IN, I GUESS,
MIDDLE SCHOOL, AND I SAID, “WELL, YOU KNOW, I’LL GET
A CHANCE TO GO TO THAT SCHOOL,” BUT IT DIDN’T HAPPEN
BECAUSE IN LOUISIANA, AS IN EVERYWHERE ELSE
IN THE SOUTH, WE DESEGREGATED THE SYSTEM
FROM THE GROUND UP, MEANING FROM FIRST GRADE,
I THINK PROBABLY ARKANSAS CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
IN ARKANSAS MAY HAVE BEEN THE ONLY STATE
THAT DESEGREGATED FROM THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL
FROM THE TOP DOWN. GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL
IN NEW ORLEANS AND HAD THE GREAT OPPORTUNITY
TO ATTEND SPELMAN COLLEGE IN ATLANTA ON A SCHOLARSHIP. I WOULD’VE GONE TO DILLARD
OR XAVIER, PROBABLY, AND BEEN A SCHOOLTEACHER IF
THE FOLK FROM SPELMAN COLLEGE HADN’T SHOWN UP AND OFFERED ME
THE SCHOLARSHIP. SO, I WOUND UP
IN ATLANTA FOR COLLEGE. IT BROADENED MY VISION, HAD
A CHANCE TO MEET HOWARD MOORE AND SOME OTHER
PROMINENT BLACK LAWYERS AND HAD A CHANCE
TO WORK FOR THEM, SUMMERS WITH
THE LEGAL DEFENSE FUND. AND THAT’S WHAT I DID FIRST, WORKING IN SCHOOL
DESEGREGATION CASES AROUND THE SOUTH
IN MISSISSIPPI AND BIRMINGHAM; MONTGOMERY; GADSDEN, ALABAMA;
AND TENNESSEE. AND MY JOB WAS TO SIT THERE
ON THE FRONT PORCH AND CONVINCE PARENTS THAT THEY
SHOULD SEND THEIR FIRST GRADERS TO THE NEWLY
DESEGREGATED SCHOOLS. AND EVERYBODY KNEW
THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, AND SO I’VE GOT TO BE PERSUASIVE
BECAUSE I’M TELLING SOMEONE, “NO, WE REALLY–THE BROWN
AGAINST BOARD OF EDUCATION “DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING UNLESS WE
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS LAWSUIT, THIS JUDGMENT,
AND THIS LITIGATION.” AND SO, I’VE GOT
TO CONVINCE THE PARENT THAT THEY NEED TO SEND
THEIR CHILD INTO WHAT THEY KNOW MAY EVEN BE
A VIOLENT SITUATION. AND MAYBE THAT’S WHERE
I STARTED THE PERSUASIVE SKILLS. I DID THAT SUMMERS AND IN
A WHOLE LOT OF SOUTHERN STATES. STEWART: I GREW UP
IN THAT PART OF THE STATE. IT WAS A VERY RACIST
AREA OF THE STATE. I GREW UP WITH
AN ALL-BLACK HIGH SCHOOL. IT WAS THE KIND OF PLACE
ONCE I LEFT I REALLY NEVER WANTED
TO COME BACK THERE. BUT I GREW UP. WHEN I WAS 4 YEARS OLD,
MY DAD WAS A LEAD PLAINTIFF IN A CLASS ACTION TO GET
A NEGRO SUBDIVISION FOR US THERE IN SHREVEPORT,
AND CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY, WHO LATER BECAME THE FIRST
AFRICAN AMERICAN FEDERAL JUDGE, WAS A HOUSING SPECIALIST
WITH THE LDF, AND SO SHE CAME TO SHREVEPORT
AND REPRESENTED MY DAD IN A CLASS TO TRY TO GET
THE HOUSE MOVING FORWARD. WE NEVER GOT THE HOUSE DUE TO
A VARIETY OF RACIAL ISSUES, INCLUDING THE POLICE JURY
AND OTHER PEOPLE WHO PASSED AN ORDINANCE THAT
THEY COULDN’T HOOK UTILITIES UP TO THE SUBDIVISION
AND SO ON AND SO FORTH AND A WHOLE LOT
OF OTHER MACHINATIONS THAT I LEARNED ABOUT EARLIER. BUT THE POINT IS, IS THAT
MY DAD IS 90, STILL ALIVE, WAS A LETTER CARRIER. HE CARRIED THE MAIL
BEFORE THEY RODE IN THE TRUCK, IN THE JEEP. HE CARRIED THE MAIL
UP AND DOWN THE HILLS, BUT HE WORKED
PART TIME AT NIGHT SELLING AIR CONDITIONERS
AND ALL THAT. MY MOTHER WAS
A DOMESTIC WORKER. BOTH OF OUR PARENTS BELIEVED THAT EDUCATION WAS
A GREAT EQUALIZER. AND SO, WHEN WE WERE YOUNG, THEY TAUGHT US
TO READ, TO STUDY, [INAUDIBLE] BOUGHT ME
A “TIME” MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION WHEN I WAS IN FIFTH GRADE. IT IS UNBROKEN EVEN TO NOW
THAT I STILL TAKE THE MAGAZINE. BUT HE TAUGHT US TO READ. WE ALWAYS HAD A LIBRARY CARD. YOU HAD TO READ,
YOU CUT THE TV OFF. IT JUST WAS THAT. AND SO, 1967, WHEN I GRADUATED
FROM HIGH SCHOOL, WAS THE FIRST YEAR
OF INTEGRATION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. BUT IT WAS A TUMULTUOUS TIME. I CHOSE TO STAY
IN MY HIGH SCHOOL. I WAS THE BATTALION COMMANDER
OF THE JUNIOR ROTC THERE, SO I HAD LEADERSHIP POSITION. I GRADUATED AND WENT
TO AN ALL-BLACK, AN HBCU, DILLARD UNIVERSITY
IN NEW ORLEANS. IT WAS THE TIME
OF THE VIETNAM WAR. I HAD A LOW DRAFT NUMBER AND A VERY MEAN,
RACIST DRAFT BOARD. AND SO, THEY MADE IT VERY CLEAR THAT THEY WOULD
GET TO ME IN DUE COURSE. IF YOU WERE WHITE, YOU HAD
OTHER OPTIONS–NATIONAL GUARD AND ALL THAT SORT OF THING, BUT IF YOU WERE BLACK,
YOU JUST DIDN’T. AND SO, KNOWING INEVITABLY
THAT AT SOME JUNCTURE I WOULD PROBABLY
GET DRAFTED, ET CETERA. BUT WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE,
I REMEMBER WHEN THE STATS WERE UP THERE ABOUT
THE LAW SCHOOLS THIS MORNING, THAT $100,000 WORTH OF DEBT,
SO I WENT TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL, BUT MY DAD ALWAYS TOLD US, “DON’T WORRY ABOUT
GOING TO PUBLIC– “YOU GO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. YOU DO YOUR PART,
AND I’LL DO MINE.” AND SO, HE NEVER
TOLD US WE HAD TO GO TO PUBLIC SCHOOL
TO SAVE TUITION. HE SAID, “YOU GO WHERE YOU CAN
GO GET THE BEST EDUCATION.” I WENT TO PRIVATE UNDERGRAD,
PRIVATE LAW SCHOOL, HAD ALL THAT DEBT. WE HAD PLENTY OF LOANS,
SCHOLARSHIPS, WORK STUDY, ALL THOSE PACKAGES
AND ALL THAT. SO, I NEVER HAD
A PREMIUM SUMMER JOB. WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE I WORKED
IN BAYFIELD INDUSTRIES MAKING MUNITIONS,
THESE MUNITIONS IN A FACTORY, AND OTHER KIND OF
MENIAL SUMMER JOB, BUT I WORKED BECAUSE
THAT’S WHAT YOU HAD TO DO TO GET AN UNDERGRAD. SO, WHEN I WENT TO LAW SCHOOL,
BECAUSE OF THE DRAFT NUMBER, I HAD THE SPECTER OF PERHAPS
GETTING DRAFTED OUT OF SCHOOL. I HAVE AN OLDER BROTHER
WHO ACTUALLY WENT TO LAW SCHOOL FIRST BUT HE
WAS DRAFTED OUT OF LAW SCHOOL. HE JOINED THE NAVY,
WENT TO OCS. HE LATER RETIRED AS A NAVY
CAPTAIN WITH 26 YEARS IN JAG. I DIDN’T WANT TO BE
DRAFTED OUT OF SCHOOL. AND SO, THE ARMY HAD COME UP
WITH A BRAND-NEW PROGRAM, TWO-YEAR ROTC,
BUT IT WAS FOR UNDERGRADS. BUT BECAUSE I HAD BEEN
BATTALION COMMANDER IN THE JUNIOR ROTC
IN HIGH SCHOOL, THEY GAVE ME AN EXCEPTION TO BE
IN THE ROTC AT LOYOLA. SO, I WENT TO EVIDENCE CLASS, SITTING IN A GREEN UNIFORM
WITH 150 PEOPLE IN THE CLASS, WITH THE PROFESSOR ABLE TO POINT
ME OUT TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. BUT I DID ONE SUMMER
AT FORT KNOX, KENTUCKY, ONE OF THE WORST
SUMMERS OF MY LIFE, AND I DID ANOTHER SUMMER
AT FORT RILEY, KANSAS, ANOTHER WORST SUMMER
OF MY LIFE. SO, I DIDN’T HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY
TO HAVE THE KIND OF JOBS THAT A LOT OF LAW–YOU KNOW,
WORK IN SUMMER AT LAW FIRMS. I WAS DOING IT. BUT BEING IN
THE MILITARY WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST EXPERIENCES
THAT I HAD. SO, WHEN I PASSED THE BAR EXAM, I HAD HEAVY PRESSURE
TO PASS THE FIRST TIME BECAUSE I HAD AN ENTRY DATE TO
GO INTO THE ARMY WAITING ON ME. I PASSED, WENT TO
THE JAG SCHOOL. AND SO, I SERVED 3 YEARS
AS A CAPTAIN IN JAG CORPS, ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS
THAT HAPPENED TO ME. INSTANT RESPONSIBILITY,
REPRESENTING CLIENTS, DOING COURT-MARTIALS,
AND I LOVED TRIAL WORK. AND SO, THAT’S WHEN MY LOVE
FOR THE TRIAL WORK BEGAN. GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. GREAT DISCIPLINE. I WOULDN’T TAKE ANYTHING–
I DON’T KNOW, I THOUGHT I WOULDN’T
TAKE ANYTHING FROM FORT KNOX AND FORT RILEY,
BUT I’M NOT TOO SURE I WANT TO GO FOR THAT
BECAUSE I HAD SOME MEAN DRILL SERGEANTS
AND ALL THAT. BUT THE MILITARY REALLY
INSTILLED DISCIPLINE, ORGANIZATION, RESPONSIBILITY,
ET CETERA, AND I REALLY THINK
IT WAS A PLATFORM FOR A LOT OF THE THINGS
THAT I’VE DONE SINCE BECAUSE BEING
IN THAT ENVIRONMENT, THERE WAS NO TIME TO BE SCARED, YOU’VE GOT PLENTY
OF RESPONSIBILITY, YOU JUST KIND OF GOT TO DO IT. AND IT REALLY SHOWED ME
THAT THOUGH GRADUATING FROM AN ALL-BLACK SCHOOL WITH
HAND-ME-DOWN BOOKS, ET CETERA, THE CONFIDENCE THAT THE TEACHERS
AND OTHER STUDENTS INSTILL IN ME THAT YOU CAN DO IT,
YOU CAN DO IT. THAT CONFIDENCE JUST ALLOWED ME
TO TRY ANYTHING, TO DO THAT. I SPENT 3 YEARS IN JAG,
GOT OUT, DIDN’T WANT TO GO HOME
BECAUSE OF THE PAST, AND I ENDED UP, THOUGH, WORKING
IN ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE. I LATER WAS AN AUSA,
TRIED CASES, AND THAT WAS MY VENTURE
INTO FEDERAL COURT. LOVED TRYING CASES
IN FEDERAL COURT AND REALLY APPEARING BEFORE
SOME WONDERFUL FEDERAL JUDGES. AND SO, I SAID, “ONE OF THESE
DAYS, MAYBE I’LL GET A CHANCE TO BE A JUDGE AND ALL THAT.” BUT LONG STORY SHORT, I WAS
ELECTED A STATE TRIAL JUDGE WHEN I WAS 35 YEARS OLD. I WAS THE FIRST BLACK
ELECTED TO THAT COURT. SPENT 7 YEARS
ON THE TRIAL BENCH, THE ABSOLUTE BEST PERIOD
OF MY PROFESSIONAL LIFE, TRYING CASES WITH LAWYERS,
AND I LOVED THE TRIALS, AND I THINK THOSE YEARS
AS A TRIAL JUDGE HELPED MAKE ME BE
A BETTER APPELLATE JUDGE. I SPENT 3 YEARS
ON THE APPELLATE COURT BEFORE COMING TO
THE FEDERAL COURT. AND THERE WAS ANOTHER PERSON
FOR A SEAT ON THE FEDERAL COURT, BUT THE SENIOR SENATOR
WAS FROM SHREVEPORT, AND YOU GET ONE OF THESE CALLS
THAT SAY, “THERE’S A SEAT OPEN. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE
A FEDERAL JUDGE?” “HUH? YEAH.
REALLY?” SO, I NEVER HAD–I WAS
QUALIFIED, MOVED THROUGH, 99-TO-NOTHING, NONE OF
ALL THESE QUESTIONS, NO LITMUS TEST,
NO NOTHING, AND SO, STRAIGHT ON THROUGH
THE DEAL AND HERE I AM. JOHNSON: YOU KNOW, YOU CAN’T
FOCUS ON THE RACISM. LIKE I SAID, I WAS AT LSU,
1965 TO 1968. THAT WAS THE SUMMER THAT–
WELL, THE SPRING, REALLY, THAT DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING
WAS ASSASSINATED. AND SO, THEY ALWAYS
WANT TO KNOW, “WELL, TELL US
SOME OF YOUR LSU STORIES.” BUT, YOU KNOW, I’M NOT
GOING TO DREDGE UP ALL– I DON’T REALLY NEED
TO FEED ON RACISM FROM 40 YEARS AGO
OR SLIGHTS OR– MY FOCUS WHEN I TALK ABOUT LSU, I’M GOING TO TELL YOU
ABOUT SOMEBODY WHO WAS THERE TO HELP ME. I’M GOING TO TELL YOU
ABOUT MARGARET O’MEARA, WHO MADE SURE I HAD NOTES. I MEAN, THE FRAT BOYS
HAD THEIR POOP SHEETS AND I HAD EVERY NOTE I NEEDED BECAUSE MARGARET O’MEARA
MADE SURE I DID. AND SO, YOU FOCUS
ON THE POSITIVE AND YOU MOVE FORWARD
BECAUSE IF YOU KEEP– AND ONE OF MY PROFESSORS
TOLD ME THERE, “DON’T BE A MARTYR OR A VICTIM. JUST DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
AND MOVE FORWARD.” AND YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HOPE. AND IF YOU COME FROM
A FAMILY OF FAITH– I COME FROM A FAMILY
OF BAPTIST PREACHERS, MY GRANDFATHER
WAS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL,
AND WE ALL WENT TO CHURCH, WE’RE CHURCH PEOPLE,
AND SO WE’RE PEOPLE OF FAITH. AND, YOU KNOW,
WE BELIEVE IN AMERICA. GREGORY: WHERE I AM,
I’M THE ONLY JUDGE IN THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
HOME RICHMOND, AND THAT BUILDING I’M IN
WAS BUILT IN 1858, AND IT WAS THE TREASURY
OF THE CONFEDERACY, AND [INAUDIBLE] DAVIS HAD
AN OFFICE IN THAT BUILDING, AND I LOOK OUT THE WINDOW
IN THE BACKSIDE– JUDGE TRAXLER
KNOWS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT– BANK STREET,
AND YOU SEE THE CAPITOL THAT WAS DESIGNED
BY THOMAS JEFFERSON. AND YOU SEE THESE TWO BUILDINGS
SPEAK TO EACH OTHER ACROSS TIME. AND I THINK THAT’S
WHAT SORT OF ANCHORS ME IN THE SENSE THAT WHAT
DR. KING TALKED ABOUT, THE MORAL ARC OF THE UNIVERSE,
IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE. I MEAN, SO THOSE ARE THE KIND
OF THINGS THAT TETHER ME. AND ONE THING I’D JUST
SAY ABOUT THE COURT. THE FIRST TIME I WENT
INTO THE BUILDING I’M IN NOW WAS IN 1980 OR SO. I WAS WORKING
AT A BIG FIRM, AND THEY HAD
THE LAWYERS COME DOWN AND DO TRIAL WORK
TO GET EXPERIENCE, SO I WAS COURT APPOINTED
TO REPRESENT THIS WOMAN FROM THE SOUTH,
A WHITE WOMAN. I DIDN’T KNOW HER,
SHE DIDN’T KNOW ME. SO I WENT DOWN THERE
AND I FIGURED OUT WHO SHE WAS AND I WALKED UP
AND INTRODUCED MYSELF. I SAID, “I’M YOUR LAWYER.” HER SPIRIT DROPPED FROM HER EYES
TO HER FEET PRECIPITOUSLY. SHOO! IT WAS LIKE, “OH, MY GOODNESS. “THE LAWYER THEY APPOINTED ME. “I MEAN, JUST LOCK ME UP NOW. JUST GO AHEAD.
WE DON’T NEED A TRIAL.” BUT THE POINT WAS
I HAD AN ASSIGNMENT, AND THAT’S WHAT
MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME– “YOU HAVE AN ASSIGNMENT,
AND IT CANNOT BE CHANGED “BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE
DON’T SEE WHO YOU ARE AND UNDERSTAND WHAT
YOU BRING TO THE TABLE.” THAT’S WHAT ANCHORS ME. LONG STORY SHORT,
WE HAD A GREAT EXPERIENCE. SHE WROTE ME
A WONDERFUL LETTER. BUT NOW I THINK ABOUT IT,
IN THAT SAME LOBBY, MY NAME IS ON THE ROSTER
AS THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE COURT, BUT THAT’S BECAUSE PEOPLE
NEVER GAVE UP AND FOUGHT HARD, AND THAT’S, JUDGE FOGEL, WHAT
KEEPS ME ANCHORED IN THAT SENSE. COLE: AS WITH SOME OF
MY COLLEAGUES HERE, FOR THE PERIOD
I LIVED IN BIRMINGHAM, I ATTENDED FROM
FIRST THROUGH SIXTH GRADE AN ALL-BLACK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. WE HAD HAND-ME-DOWN BOOKS.
THEY WERE, AS I THINK MAYBE JUDGE STEWART
SAID, TATTERED AND TORN, AND MANY PEOPLE THAT
USED THEM BEFORE WE HAD. BUT OUR TEACHERS WERE COMMITTED
AND ABSOLUTELY DEDICATED, ALL BLACK TEACHERS,
AND THEY WERE DISCIPLINED IN TERMS OF INSTRUCTION
AND VERY MUCH COMMITTED TO THEIR STUDENTS LEARNING
WHAT WE NEEDED TO LEARN. SO, I FEEL AS THOUGH
I GOT A GREAT EDUCATION AT WILKERSON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
IN BIRMINGHAM. AND THIS MAY BE TRUE
FOR A LOT OF US– IF YOU GOT IN TROUBLE AT SCHOOL,
YOU GET IN TROUBLE AT HOME, BECAUSE THE TEACHER
WOULD CALL THE HOUSE, SO YOU GET IN TROUBLE TWICE. THE TEACHERS WERE THAT KIND
OF COMMITTED TO OUR SUCCESS. UNLIKE MY COLLEAGUES, I– MY PARENTS MOVED TO
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT WHEN I WAS–JUST BEFORE
HIGH SCHOOL AND I ATTENDED
PREDOMINANTLY WHITE SCHOOLS FROM THAT POINT FORWARD
AND WENT OFF TO A PREDOMINANTLY WHITE
UNIVERSITY, TUFTS UNIVERSITY, IN 1968 OUTSIDE OF BOSTON. YOU MAY RECALL
THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT DR. KING AND ROBERT KENNEDY
WERE ASSASSINATED, YOU GOT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL
CONVENTION IN CHICAGO, AND ALL THE VIOLENCE. OUR SOCIETY IN GENERAL WAS IN TURMOIL WITH THE RIOTS,
THE DEMONSTRATIONS ON CAMPUSES. I THINK UP UNTIL 1966, ’67, CAMPUSES HAD BEEN
RELATIVELY CALM PLACES, AS MUCH AS THEY CAN BE
WITH 18- TO 22-YEAR-OLDS. WHEN I ARRIVED AT
TUFTS UNIVERSITY IN 1968, THERE WERE, I THINK,
ABOUT 10 BLACK STUDENTS THERE AND MY CLASS HAD 49. AND IT WAS A VERY CHALLENGING
TIME FOR THE UNIVERSITY TO ABSORB THAT MANY
BLACK STUDENTS, MANY OF WHOM CAME FROM VERY ECONOMICALLY DEPRESSED
BACKGROUNDS, VERY BRIGHT STUDENTS AND IN
THE MIDST OF WHAT HAD BEEN A MUCH MORE
HOMOGENOUS ENVIRONMENT. JUDGE ERIC WASHINGTON,
WHO’S HERE, FOLLOWED ME A COUPLE
YEARS LATER, AND WE WERE JUST SAYING
LAST NIGHT THAT IN SOME WAYS WE FEEL THAT WE HELPED
TEACH THE UNIVERSITY AS MUCH AS THEY TAUGHT US. BUT I LEARNED A LOT THERE
ABOUT RESILIENCE BECAUSE I THINK PROBABLY
IF I HAD ATTENDED A HISTORICALLY BLACK UNIVERSITY
AS MY PARENTS DID, AND AS THEY WANTED ME
TO DO INITIALLY, IT MAY HAVE BEEN A LITTLE BIT
MORE OF A NURTURING ENVIRONMENT, BUT WE HAD TO BE RESILIENT, THOSE 49 OF US WHO
ARRIVED AT THE TUFTS CAMPUS IN SEPTEMBER OF 1968. FOGEL: WE’VE HEARD ABOUT
YOUR LIFE CHALLENGES AND I THINK THAT
REALLY SAYS A LOT ABOUT WHO EACH OF YOU IS
AND HAS BECOME AS A PERSON. BUT IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE
OR IN YOUR LEGAL CAREER, IF YOU WANT TO BE
A LITTLE BIT BROADER, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGE
YOU’VE FACED? WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST THING
YOU’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH? JOHNSON: WHAT I’M STRUGGLING
WITH NOW IS THE FACT THAT LOUISIANA IS
NUMBER ONE IN THE NATION IN TERMS OF THE RATES
OF INCARCERATION. WE HAVE THE PEW TRUST INVOLVED
IN THE STATE NOW ASSISTING US WITH THIS
AND I HAVE REACHED OUT TO WILLIAM HUBBARD
AND OTHER FOLK TO TALK ABOUT INCARCERATION. IN FACT, WHEN HUBBARD
WAS PRESIDENT OF THE ABA, HE CAME DOWN TO LOUISIANA
TO WORK WITH US AND TELL US WHAT THEY’VE
BEEN DOING IN SOUTH CAROLINA. BUT WE INCARCERATE MORE PEOPLE
THAN CHINA, IRAN, AND 100 OTHER NATIONS THAT
WE THINK ARE WORSE THAN WE ARE. THE UNITED STATES INCARCERATES
MORE PEOPLE THAN ANYBODY ELSE AND LOUISIANA IS
NUMBER ONE IN THE NATION. TO BE A CHIEF JUSTICE
OF THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT AND HAVE A STATISTIC LIKE THAT,
THAT’S NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF, AND SO THAT’S MORE OF A BURDEN
TO ME THAN ANYTHING ELSE. AND SO, IF YOU ASK ME
WHAT MY CHALLENGE IS, MY CHALLENGE IS
BETWEEN NOW AND 2020, WHEN I LEAVE THE COURT. I SAID TO SECRETARY LEBLANC, WHO’S SECRETARY OF
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, “I’D LIKE TO BE
NUMBER TWO OR NUMBER 3. I DON’T WANT TO BE
NUMBER ONE IN THE NATION.” AND IT’S A BURDEN TO BE A PART
OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM THIS LONG AND YOU TALK WITH
YOUNG BLACK MEN AND THEY TALK ABOUT THE
DISPARITIES AND THE INJUSTICES AND I’M A PART OF IT. JUST LOOK AT THE STATISTICS
FROM OUR WEBSITE, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,
IT’S ALL THERE. MOSTLY AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN, AND WE’VE LOCKED THEM UP
LONG TERM, SOMETIMES WITH
MULTIPLE BILLING THEM WITH SMALL AMOUNTS OF DRUGS,
A FEW MARIJUANA CIGARETTES [INAUDIBLE], AND SOMETIMES YOU STOP THEM,
SHAKE THEM DOWN, THEY’RE RIDING A BICYCLE
OR A COUPLE OF THEM STANDING ON THE CORNER, THEY’VE
GOT A MARIJUANA CIGARETTE. SO, I GUESS THAT
IS MY CHALLENGE. I FEEL MY COMMITMENT HAS ALWAYS
BEEN ABOUT FUNDAMENTAL FAIRNESS AND I WANT TO LEAVE A SYSTEM
THAT’S A LITTLE BIT IMPROVED IN TERMS OF
THAT FAIRNESS ISSUE. STEWART: BEING CHIEF JUDGE
IS A BIG DEAL TO A LOT OF PEOPLE AND UNTIL
YOU’RE THE CHIEF JUDGE, YOU DON’T REALLY REALIZE
ALL THAT GOES WITH IT. I THINK THE THREE OF US
WHO ARE CHIEF KNOW, I SIT THE SAME NUMBER OF TIMES
AS ALL MY COLLEAGUES, 7 TIMES A YEAR, SO I STILL
HEAR CASES, ET CETERA, AND YET AT LEAST 75% OF MY TIME IS DEALING WITH
NON-CASE-RELATED MATTERS. AND SO, I HAVE A HUGE CIRCUIT. TEXAS IS A BIG CUSTOMER. I HAVE 9 JUDICIAL DISTRICTS, WHICH MEANS I HAVE 9
CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGES. I HAVE 105 COURTHOUSES, 3,218
TOTAL SUPPORT PEOPLE IN IT. IT’S A HUGE OPERATION,
VERY GEOGRAPHICALLY DISPERSED. AND ONCE YOU BECOME
CHIEF JUDGE, YOU REALIZE NOT ONLY
HOW EXPANSIVE IT IS BUT ALL THE ISSUES
THAT BUBBLE UP TO THE CHIEF JUDGE
TO DEAL WITH. AND SO, MANAGING
THE TIME ELEMENT IN TERMS OF DEALING
WITH ALL THAT AS WELL AS THE RELATIONSHIPS
AND SO FORTH ON MY OWN COURT, THE 17 JUDGES ON MY COURT,
BUT IT’S MORE THE CHIEF JUDGE. A LOT OF WHAT WE DO DEALS
NOT WITH THE FIFTH CIRCUIT BUT IT’S WITH PRESIDING
OVER THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, IT’S BEING A PARTICIPANT
IN THE JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES,
IT’S SERVING ON COMMITTEES, IT’S GOING OUT
INTO THE CIRCUIT, IT’S GOING TO THE BORDER,
IT’S DEALING WITH ISSUES THAT THE DISTRICT COURTS HAVE. AND SO, THERE ARE SO MANY
THINGS THAT BUBBLE UP, IT’S A 24/7 CONSTANCY THAT WHEN
YOU’RE A REGULAR CIRCUIT JUDGE YOU DON’T SEE THAT. YOU JUST DON’T. YOU DEAL WITH YOUR CASES. BUT ONCE YOU BECOME CHIEF,
IT’S THERE BIG TIME. SO, EVEN BEING HERE–I DOUBT
THE THREE OF US WHILE HERE, WE’VE BEEN SITTING
BACK THERE MANAGING. WE’VE BEEN LISTENING
TO WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON BUT WE HAVE LITERALLY BEEN–
I’VE BEEN ON THE PHONE WITH THE CIRCUIT EXECUTIVE
THIS MORNING. ROGER AND I ARE TALKING. SO, IT’S A FULL TILT. AND SO, IT’S A CHALLENGE
TO MANAGE THE EXPECTATIONS, TO DEAL WITH
THE VARIOUS CONSTITUENCIES THAT ARE INVOLVED IN TERMS
OF THE DISTRICT JUDGES, YET AT THE SAME TIME
YOU HAVE A HUGE COLLECTION OF EXTREMELY SMART… TAUT EGO COLLEAGUES. FOGEL: CHOOSE YOUR
WORDS CAREFULLY. STEWART: I AM. WHEN YOU GET ROOMS FULL OF
VERY, VERY SMART PEOPLE, FINISHED NUMBER ONE
IN THEIR CLASS, NEVER BEEN WRONG
ONCE IN THEIR LIFE, AND WHEN YOU’VE GOT TO MANAGE
THE DISCUSSIONS, THE EGOS, BUT YET TRY TO KEEP
THE RELATIONSHIPS AND TRY TO DO IT
AS EVEN-HANDEDLY AS YOU CAN, THAT IS A CHALLENGE
ON AN ONGOING BASIS. COLE: BEING CHIEF
IS PROBABLY MY BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGE. IT WAS TOUGH BECOMING
A PARTNER IN A LAW FIRM THAT HAD NEVER HAD
A BLACK PARTNER BEFORE. THERE WAS A LOT OF PRESSURE
I FELT ON ME TO SUCCEED. I DIDN’T WANT TO FAIL. THERE WERE BLACK ASSOCIATES
IN THE FIRM WHO WERE COMING UP
THROUGH THE RANKS, AND THE FIRM HAD ALWAYS BEEN
EMINENTLY FAIR TO ME AND SAID, “IF YOU EARN THE PRIVILEGE OF
BECOMING A PARTNER, YOU WILL, BUT IT WILL BE
IRRESPECTIVE OF RACE.” AND THAT’S HOW I VIEWED IT. I TOOK THEM AT THEIR WORD
AND THEY WERE TRUE TO THEIR WORD AND BECAME A PARTNER THERE
AND ENJOYED IT. BUT THAT WAS A CHALLENGE
BACK IN THE EARLY 1980s. STEWART: I THINK
THE BEST PART OF THE JOB WE HAVE AS A FEDERAL JUDGE ARE
THE LAW CLERKS THAT WE EMPLOY. I’VE HAD 74 LAW CLERKS,
WHO KNOWS HOW MANY INTERNS, BUT I TRY TO MENTION TO THEM
AND IMPRESS UPON THEM BECAUSE I BELIEVE
THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH ME OR ROGER BURNETT
OR GUY CAN DO. BUT OUR OBLIGATION
IS TO PLANT SOME SEEDS IN THOSE LAW CLERKS
AND YOUNG LAWYERS BECAUSE THEY NEED
TO BE THE AMBASSADORS FOR THE IMPORTANCE
OF THE RULE OF LAW, THE INDEPENDENCE
OF THE JUDICIARY, SOLVING A LOT OF THESE
INTRACTABLE PROBLEMS THAT WE CAN’T DO. SO, WHILE BEING CHIEF JUDGE
HAS ITS POTHOLES, IT IS A POSITION OF TREMENDOUS
OPPORTUNITY TO DO GOOD. GREGORY: BUT IN THE END,
IT’S NOT THE VICTORIES, IT’S THE STRUGGLE
THAT BINDS US. AND I THINK THAT STRUGGLE
IS ONE THAT WE ALL DO WITH–IN ESSENCE WITH ETHNICS,
WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE, OR GENDER, WHATEVER
IT MIGHT BE. AS AMERICANS WE STRUGGLE,
BUT HOPEFULLY THIS IDEAL THAT WE STILL
TETHER OURSELVES TO IT. SO, I THINK
THE UNION IS HOPEFUL. AND, JUDGE FOGEL,
YOU KNOW WHERE THE HOPE CAME THE MOST FOR ME? I WILL SAY THIS, IN TERMS OF HAVING A GLIMPSE OF SOMETHING, A LIGHT THAT
NO DARKNESS COULD OBSCURE, AND THAT WAS WHEN
I WAS 10 YEARS OLD, IF I CAN JUST FAST FORWARD,
AND I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU HOW IT HAPPENED,
BUT JUST REMEMBER THAT IT WAS
STUPIDITY ON STEROIDS. BUT I INJURED MY EYE
WHEN I WAS AT HOME ALONE. MY MOM CAME AND SHE SAID,
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, BOY?” I TRIED TO HIDE IT FROM HER
AND I WAS TEARING, BUT IT REALLY WASN’T TEARS. BUT ANYWAY, LONG STORY SHORT, FINALLY SHE TAKES ME
TO THE HOSPITAL, THE ER, THEY LOOK AT MY EYE,
AND THEY’RE ABOUT TO RELEASE ME AND SAY, “HE’S FINE.
GO HOME,” BUT IT JUST SO HAPPENED THAT
A YOUNG WHITE OPHTHALMOLOGIST WAS COMING THROUGH,
AND I DON’T KNOW WHETHER HE HAD JUST FINISHED A LONG SHIFT
OF 16 HOURS OR WHATEVER, BUT HE SAID, “LET ME
SEE THAT BOY’S EYE.” AND HE LOOKED AT ME AND HE SAID,
“HIS EYEBALL IS CRACKED. HE’LL BE BLIND IF HE DOESN’T
HAVE SURGERY SOON.” AND THE NURSE LOOKED AT HIM
AND THEN SHE SAID, “THERE’S NO ROOM FOR HIM.” AND HE LOOKED AT HER AND SAID, “LISTEN, THIS BOY IS GOING INTO
SURGERY AT MIDNIGHT, AND YOU BETTER HAVE
A PLACE FOR HIM.” AND THE NEXT MORNING, I WOKE UP,
MY MOM AND DAD AT MY BEDSIDE, AND THERE WERE 7 OTHER
EMPTY BEDS IN THAT BIG ROOM. THEY HAD RUN OUT OF ROOM
ON THE SIDE DESIGNATED FOR ME. THAT’S WHAT GIVES ME HOPE,
THAT YOUNG WHITE OPHTHALMOLOGIST AT 10 YEARS OLD GAVE ME
THE GLANCE OF A LIGHT THAT NO DARKNESS CAN OBSCURE. AND EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE
A LONG WAYS TO GO AND MANY MILES BEFORE WE SLEEP,
AS FROST MIGHT SAY, I THINK WE HAVE THE FRAMEWORK. EVEN THOUGH OUR FOUNDERS
DIDN’T LIVE IT BUT THEY GAVE A MATRIX FOR WHICH
WE MIGHT LIVE THROUGH THAT. AND I BELIEVE THAT
WE’RE GOING TO BE OK, BUT THAT’S GOING TO BE
SOME DIFFICULT DAYS AHEAD, BUT I HAVE A LOT OF HOPE
THAT WE WILL. FOGEL: THANK YOU. YES.

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