“What can we learn from Alvin Rubin about what it means to be a good judge,” asked LSU Law Chancellor Jack Weiss to a standing-room only crowd as he presented at the 22nd Annual Judge Alvin B. Rubin Symposium on April 17 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District. Weiss’ presentation, Alvin B. Rubin and the Good Judge Ideal, focused on three of the many important lessons to be gained from Judge Rubin’s example: a good judge can’t be fooled, a good judge is a good teacher, and a good judge considers “all information relevant to a just result.”
Sponsored by the New Orleans Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, the symposium is an annual discussion on aspects of federal law or federal practice held as a living memorial to Judge Alvin B. Rubin’s contribution to federal jurisprudence and legal scholarship.
“My first lesson about good judging a la Alvin Rubin: a good judge can’t be fooled,” said Chancellor Weiss. “Other than partiality or corruption, there is nothing more disturbing than to appear before a judge who can readily be sold a legal or factual bill of goods—for example, an argument that has surface plausibility but on closer examination just won’t hold up, leads to patently unacceptable consequences, or is founded on mischaracterized facts or precedent.”
“A lawyer might hope to fool Judge Rubin, but could never expect to do so,” Weiss said.
“A good judge is a good teacher,” said Weiss. “Good judges demand, and bring out, the best in the lawyers who practice before them. They are accessible to lawyers to help them shape or resolve their cases and subtly guide well-meaning and less adept or rookie lawyers when they are in need of help. They are unstinting in their praise for those who meet their expectations, and encourage those who do their best to meet his expectations. But they have no tolerance for sloppiness or chicanery.”
Weiss summarized, “. . . good judges as good teachers actively and energetically enhance and adorn the judicial process. They are demanding, but not overbearing; persistent, but not rude. They elevate the work of the lawyers who appear before them, the work of their own judicial colleagues, the quality of their deliberations, and, overall, the quality of justice meted out by the Court on which they sit. This, too, was quintessentially Alvin B. Rubin.”
Chancellor Weiss concluded his presentation with the third and most complex respect in which Judge Rubin provides a model for good judges present and future.
“He himself said that it is important for a judge to consider ‘all information relevant to a just result’,” shared Weiss. “When a judge engages in statutory or constitutional interpretation, it means that a judge must remain open to the consideration of context, purpose, and consequence. He or she eschews formulaic and other hidebound approaches to judicial decision making. The good judge understands that the highest and most sensitive part of the judge’s job is to reconcile competing social interests consistent with constitutional or legislative purpose in the face of inevitable ambiguity and the multiple meanings that facts may bear. The good judge weighs the consequences of alternative dispositions of a case, using his or her own “good judgment” and taking into account “the nation’s needs” in cases implicating them. A judge who “considers all information relevant to a just result” also demonstrates attention to factual detail, a discerning eye, common sense, and human understanding derived from experience. In other words, a good judge is keenly aware that his or her decisions are only as good as the completeness, accuracy, and relevance of the facts marshaled in support.”
“Judge Rubin was unusually gifted at reconciling competing societal interests through clear-eyed assessment of constitutional or legislative purpose, context, and consequence,” Weiss said. “He was also a master of penetrating factual analysis grounded in experience and understanding. To use a simple analogy: he had the good sense to look out of the courthouse window and the sharp vision necessary to make appropriate use of what he saw.”
Chancellor Weiss said he has no doubt that, “we can and should place Judge Rubin squarely within the centrist or “consequentialist” tradition of Justices Souter, Breyer, and their judicial forebears from Holmes and Brandeis to Learned Hand to Felix Frankfurter to William Brennan, Byron White, Potter Stewart, Lewis F. Powell, and Sandra Day O’Connor, just to name a few.”