Over 100 students, professors and members of the bar attended a federal judges panel on Tuesday, Feb. 2, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS). Penn Law Professor Catherine Struve moderated the discussion, which included judges from four federal courts: Hon. R. Guy Cole, Jr. of the Sixth Circuit; Hon. Gene E. K. Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Hon. Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit; and Hon. Marjorie Rendell of the Third Circuit.
“We wanted to include a diverse group of judges who represent the judicial philosophy promoted by the American Constitution Society, as well as at least one judge who could bring a more conservative perspective to the panel,” explained Adam Schwartzbaum, a student and ACS member who helped organize the event.
The panel topic was “Problems with Precedent,” and the judges discussed issues that members of the judiciary face when confronted with contradictory judicial precedents, en banc proceedings and non-published opinions. Judge Reinhardt noted the challenge for appellate judges in determining the extent to which their opinions should leave issues open for the lower courts to decide. Presenting a different perspective, Judge Pratter described the method a district court judge employs when applying narrow or vague precedents.
The judges attempted to demystify the inner workings of the judiciary, answering questions from audience members about the process of writing opinions, concurrences and dissents. Judge Rendell spoke of the collegiality of the Third Circuit, describing an eight-day process by which judges are able to comment on one another’s opinions before they are published.
The judges also provided glimpses at the personalities behind their opinions. Judge Cole humored the crowd with a story about his son and daughter, both students at Penn, and assured any trustees in the audience that he had paid the tuition bills for the upcoming semester.
Penn Law’s ACS Chapter was formed in 2001 with the goal to help revitalize and transform contemporary debate about the role of law in society. This is the seventh consecutive year that the Chapter has organized a federal judges panel.