This interview with US District Judge, Honorable Judge Robert W. Gettleman
was conducted by "Article III Groupie" email@example.com who
kindly gave me permission to reprint it on www.rezamusic.com
It is really a wonderful interview and sheds light into the life and
mind of a great man of our society.
For further reprint please contact the copyright holder at the above email address in order to obtain permission .
================================================================================================================ Article III Groupie proudly
presents the latest installment in her Questions Presented series, an
interview with a super-fabulous jurist: Judge Robert W. Gettleman, of
the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois!
Judge Gettleman was born in 1943 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He
moved with his family to Miami, Florida, where his father owned a boat
yard (and where Judge Gettleman developed his love of fishing). Judge
Gettleman received his undergraduate degree from Boston University in
1965 and his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in
1968 -- both with honors, of course. He then began his legal
career as so many federal judicial celebrities do, by serving as a law
clerk. Judge Gettleman clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the Seventh Circuit, for Chief Judge Latham Castle and then for Chief
Judge Luther Swygert.
After his clerkships, in 1970 Judge Gettleman joined the law firm of
D'Ancona & Pflaum as an associate in the litigation
department. In 1974, four short years later, he made
partner. During his 24-year career as a litigator, in addition to
successfully representing major corporations in commercial cases, he
also litigated several landmark disability rights cases.
The rest, dear readers, is history. In October 1994, he assumed
the bench as a district court judge for the Northern District of
Illinois. Judge Gettleman recently celebrated his tenth judicial
Now, on to the main event! (Per UTR standard procedure, A3G's
questions appear below in italics, and Judge Gettleman's answers follow
in ordinary roman type.) [fonts didn't come across in the
reprint but the distinction between the questions and
answers should be intuitive.]
1. What are the best and worst parts of being a district court judge?
The Top Ten Best Parts of Being a District Court Judge (in no particular order):
(1) No partners, clients, opposing counsel or judges to hassle you.
(2) The interaction with lawyers, litigants, jurors and witnesses in the courtroom.
(3) Learning something new almost every day.
(4) I look good in black.
(5) The collegiality of chambers and interactions with my colleagues on the court.
(6) Reading those delightful opinions from the court of appeals and learning from my (many) mistakes.
(7) Waking up every morning and looking forward to spending the day trying to just do the right thing.
(8) That great free parking space in the heart of the Loop.
(9) Never having to fire anyone.
(10) Humongous office with all the trimmings.
(11) Being able to make decisions on my own.
(12) Being able to list twelve “Best Parts” of the “Top Ten.”
The Top Ten Worst Parts of Being a District Court Judge (in no particular order):
(1) Reading those delightful opinions from the court of appeals and learning from my (many) mistakes.
(2) The meager judicial salary.
(3) Dismissing cases (especially pro se cases) filed by well-meaning people who sincerely believe they have been aggrieved.
(4) Sentencing (almost) anyone to prison, especially immigrant
defendants who were raised in the United States but did not become
citizens, knowing that they will be deported afterwards to a country to
which they are strangers.
(5) Sitting through long, tedious jury trials where I have little to do but look judicial.
(6) Hearing lawyers complain about other lawyers.
(7) Motivating myself to tackle that patent case with the cross-motions
for summary judgment, requiring the construction of 17 independent and
37 dependent claims.
(8) Denying what might be a colorable habeas corpus petition because it is procedurally barred.
(9) Reading briefs with grammatical and typographical errors, and briefs that are far too long and uninteresting.
(10) I can’t think of a 10th “worst part.”
2. On the subject of collegiality and interactions with your
judicial colleagues, district judges usually work by themselves.
Sure, they have help from law clerks and secretaries, but they
(generally) don't sit on panels with two or more other judges, like
circuit judges do. Do you find having the freedom to decide cases
on your own, i.e., without having to secure the votes of other judges,
empowering or isolating? Also, what opportunities do you have as
a district judge to interact with your colleagues or to develop
collegiality, given that you decide cases on your own, with your
individual courtroom as your personal fiefdom?
I believe that most trial judges would agree that the freedom to decide
cases on our own is more empowering than isolating. First, we are not
really alone in making these decisions. We have the attorneys arguing
their respective cases and our law clerks to help us. Of course, the
final decision rests with the judge, and that is why we are here.
Judges are in the decision business. Judges who have trouble making
decisions should find some other line of work.
On this court, I have a fair amount of interaction with my colleagues.
We have monthly meetings and weekly gatherings for coffee and lunch.
Although not all judges attend these weekly get-togethers, they provide
an invaluable opportunity to discuss cases and other matters of mutual
concern. I have a great group of colleagues, and value my relationship
and time with them.
3. Would you ever want to serve as a circuit court judge? Also,
do you agree with the theory that differences in temperament and
personality may make some people better suited to be trial judges, and
other people better suited to be appellate judges?
If I had a choice to be a district or circuit court judge (I
don’t) I would definitely choose the former. I very much enjoy
the interaction with people who come before this court, and don’t
think I would be nearly as happy reading briefs and writing opinions
only. It would be nice, however, to be able to sit on our court of
appeals occasionally; unfortunately, the Seventh Circuit does not have
visiting judges of any kind and, unlike most of my district court
colleagues around the country, the judges on the district courts of the
Seventh Circuit do not sit on the court of appeals as visiting judges.
I think this is unfortunate.
To answer your second question, I think some people are better suited
to be trial judges and others to be appellate judges. Speaking for
myself, I enjoy the action of the courtroom, as well as case
management, settlement conferences, and writing opinions. It is the mix
and variety that make this job so special.
4. In your pre-robescent legal life, you spent almost 25 years
litigating major commercial and pro bono cases. As noted in a
1996 article about you in the Chicago Lawyer, you prevailed in "the
great fight over Dorothy and Toto," successfully representing the
Bradford Exchange and MGM Studios in major copyright litigation.
As noted in a 1997 profile of you that appeared in the Chicago Daily
Law Bulletin, on the pro bono side, you successfully litigated "the
landmark 1988 case that resulted in the Chicago Transit Authority being
ordered to buy buses with wheelchair lifts for the disabled -- before
the federal Americans with Disabilities Act was passed." These are, of
course, just two highlights in your phenomenally successful career as a
litigator. Do you miss the practice of law and being able to serve as
an advocate, as opposed to an impartial arbiter of disputes?
Surprisingly, I do not miss practicing law. Although I am sometimes
frustrated when I see things happen in the courtroom that I find
incompetent or mystifying, and have to stop myself from jumping in to
argue a point, object, or ask a follow-up question, the great majority
of time in the actual practice of law is not in the courtroom or other
adversarial proceedings such as depositions. It is at the office, where
the pressures of the “business of law” and the consequent
unpleasant tasks one is required to perform -- especially as one gains
seniority within a firm -- are things I am happy to leave behind. Once
you get over the huge difference between deciding which side has the
correct argument, rather than merely advocating your client’s
position, the role of adjudicator is far more comfortable and pleasant
than that of an advocate.
5. You argued a major ERISA case, Nachman Corp. v. Pension
Benefit Guaranty Corp., 446 U.S. 359 (1980), in the Supreme Court. What
was it like to argue before the Court, those nine judicial deities unto
whom we offer burnt sacrifices of fatlings?
Arguing any case before the Supreme Court is a real kick. You tend to
spend much more time than needed preparing for what in essence is
nothing more than an appellate argument in any court. At first, it is
quite startling to see the nine justices who, as you say, we regard as
“judicial deities” walk through the curtains and take their
seats at the bench. The podium that the lawyer stands at is quite close
to the bench, and there is almost an intimate feeling while arguing the
case -- certainly more so than, say, in the Seventh Circuit where the
podium is a fair distance from the bench. I enjoyed the experience a
great deal, and just wish that I had gotten one more vote.
6. Like so many great federal judges, you started off your legal
career as a law clerk. From June 1968 to July 1970, you clerked
for Judge Latham Castle and for Judge Luther Swygert, both of the
Seventh Circuit. What was it like to clerk for two different judges on
the same court? And do you have any recommendations or advice for
people considering doing a judicial clerkship?
Actually, I began my clerkship career as what was then the first and
only staff law clerk for the Seventh Circuit. I was hired by Judge
Swygert, with whom I became very close and remained so until he passed
away. That job lasted for less than three months, when Judge Castle
became Chief Judge and asked me to be his law clerk. In those days,
court of appeals judges had at most two law clerks, and Judge Castle
had a permanent clerk that helped him with the administrative duties; I
was the only law clerk drafting opinions and working on cases. It was a
great introduction to the practical side of the law, and it led to my
clerkship with Judge Swygert when he became Chief. Luther Swygert was
somewhat of a rebel. He was also a drinking buddy, personal confidant,
and an endless source of great stories and empathy.
My advice to any young lawyer is to seek the best clerkship you can get
and devote yourself to it. You will learn more in the year or two you
spend as a law clerk to any judge than you will in the previous three
years in law school or the next five years in practice if you put your
mind to it.
7. What qualities do you look for when hiring your law clerks,
how do you conduct your clerk hiring process, and how would you
describe your relationship with your clerks, both during and after the
Obviously, I begin by looking for achievement both academically and
personally. I do not let my law clerks make “cuts” in the
resumes we get, which number approximately 400 for each open position.
I do this myself, and because most of the applicants are incredibly
competent (the judges around here joke that we are not qualified to be
our own law clerks), I look for something unusual or special in their
resume that catches my attention. I can’t even tell you what it
is, but working for not-for-profits or public interest groups, unusual
outside interests, or an unusually concise, well written cover letter
may get my attention. Obviously, any personal recommendation from
someone I know and trust means a lot as well. I narrow the choices down
to about eight candidates, interview them, and make a decision. I do
not require an applicant to make a decision immediately upon getting an
offer, since I think that is unfair to the applicant as well as other
judges who may intend to interview the applicant. I should mention that
I have one permanent law clerk, who practiced with me before I went on
the bench, and hire my other law clerk once every other year.
We have a very informal, relaxed atmosphere in chambers with everyone.
One of the great things about being a federal judge on this court is
that we are able to work at a pace in which we can be comfortable with
the quality of our product and enjoy the working relationships that we
develop. I often eat lunch in chambers with my clerks, where we have a
chance to discuss not just our work but anything else that comes to
mind. I can honestly say that the young people who have rotated through
this chambers are among the finest group of people I have met and
worked with in my life. It is a privilege to be able to see them at the
beginning of their careers and to follow them as they achieve their
goals after they leave.
8. Judge Gettleman, A3G would be remiss in her duties as chief arbiter
of federal judicial fashion if she didn't "get all up in your robe
(a) Who are you wearing?
(b) Do your robes come in different styles?
(c) How many robes do you own?
(d) Do judges have to pay for their robes -- or is federal judicial
service like working at McDonald's, where the uniform comes with the
(e) Are there any other details you'd like to share about your robes?
I am afraid that getting “under my robe” won’t be
nearly as interesting as your interview with Judge Wardlaw. I have only
two robes, both black and made by Murphy Robes of Chicago. The one I
wear every day was given to me by two of my closest friends with whom I
practiced law at my former law firm. It is a standard judicial robe and
is beginning to fall apart after ten years. I have another, fancier
robe that was given to me by Seymour Simon, a former Justice of the
Illinois Supreme Court and one of my heroes. Seymour and I got to know
each other as opposing counsel in some major litigation just preceding
my appointment to the bench, and he honored me by giving me his old
robe which has his name on the label. I wear this only on special
occasions. Seymour turned 90 this summer and still practices, and I
hope he gets to see me wearing his robe for many years to come.
9. The other day A3G was thinking (yes, she does that from time
to time): Unfortunately for them, federal judges don't get to show off
all their great outfits, seeing as they're hidden under their robes. Do
you miss the opportunity to strut your stuff in a beautifully tailored
business suit? And how would you describe your tastes in non-robescent
clothing and your overall fashion sensibility?
I am rather pedestrian in my taste of clothes. I wear (old) jackets and
slacks to work most days. I have them custom made in Hong Kong by an
outfit called Medos. All I do is choose the color and fabric, write a
check, and about three weeks later they arrive. I have a wardrobe
filled with suits I ordered before taking the bench which I almost
never wear (weddings, etc.). I wear comfortable, ugly walking shoes to
work, and all my ties are gifts, mostly from my wife (I have lousy
taste in ties).
Judges’ tastes in working dress vary a great deal. I notice that
some of my male colleagues still wear suits (bad habits from their
former lives?), and some, like me, dress more casually. But unlike
lawyers these days, we all seem to wear ties during the day, whether in
chambers or on the bench -- which is more than I can say for lawyers in
practice, who are, in my opinion, under-dressed for their professional
roles. All I can surmise is that their clients must be similarly
attired, an obvious sign of the decline of civilization as we know it.
10. Do you have a gavel? If not, why not? If so, do you enjoy banging your gavel?
Hmm, that last question came out sounding a little risque, so counsel
will rephrase. Do you get a thrill from banging your metaphorical
gavel, i.e., from reveling in your exalted federal judicial status? And
is judicial title-dropping useful in snaring hard-to-get restaurant
I do have a gavel. We are all given gavels inscribed with our names on
them when we are inducted onto the bench. I keep it with me on the
bench, but it is actually my courtroom deputy who gavels the beginning
of our court sessions, using an old gavel I found lying around here. He
has the block as well as the gavel, and if you bang the gavel on the
bench without the block it doesn’t sound like much.
As far as getting a kick from banging my metaphorical gavel, the thrill
of being a federal judge -- which I must admit was quite a thrill
indeed when I first took the bench after practicing in this court and
others for about 25 years -- wears off after a while. You get to
realize that you are not such a big shot after all, especially on a big
court like this where we have 22 active and about eight senior judges.
In a large city like Chicago, we are pretty inconspicuous. The only
people that tend to fawn over you are lawyers, and who needs that.
After several years on this job, I realize that being a husband,
father, and now grandfather are the most important parts of my life,
and the trappings of office are relatively unimportant. And as far as
getting hard-to-get restaurant reservations, there are no such things
in Chicago. We have many great restaurants, and I have not had to pull
11. On the subject of restaurants, do you have a few favorite places that you can recommend to visitors to the Windy City?
My taste in restaurants, and that of my wife, is rather eclectic. I
don’t often go to the fancier places, and prefer ethnic food such
as Greek Town (Greek Islands, Parthenon, or Santorini) or one of our
many Asian restaurants. For Italian we like Coco Pazzo on St. Clair on
the near north side. For a quick, affordable meal we really like Boston
Blackies, also on St. Clair. And remember Chicago is a pizza town. The
best by far, in my opinion, is Edwardos.
12. You are known as an accomplished fisherman (both saltwater and fly
fishing). It is also rumored that you have gone paintballing with the
#1 Male Superhottie of the Federal Judiciary. Please tell us a little
bit about what you enjoy doing in your spare time, when you are not
warming your bench or in your chambers.
You flatter me. I like to think of myself as an accomplished fisherman,
but whether I am accomplished or not I love to fish, having grown up in
Miami with a father who owned a boat yard. Here is a picture of me with
a tarpon I caught on a fly rod in the Keys last June (I am the one on
the right; the tarpon was released.)
Unfortunately, Chicago must be the worst place in the world for anyone
who likes to fish. Although we have a rather large body of fresh water
just down the street from where I live and work, the fish in it are not
terribly interesting. There are no lakes or streams nearby that are
worth wetting a line in. To do any serious fishing I have to get on a
plane, which I do several times a year.
And you are right about the paintballing adventure with Alex Kozinski.
When my son Jeffrey was with the Los Angeles Times, I used to play
paintball with him in California when we visited. I heard through the
grapevine that Alex played paintball, and invited him to join us. I was
with my son and his girlfriend, Courtenay (who is now a juvenile public
defender in Newark, NJ), and Alex was with his son and one of his law
clerks. We had a great time, and he can tell you better than I what he
thought of my skill with a paintball gun. Sadly, that was the last time
I played paintball, and it has been about three years or so. My son is
now with the New York Times and recently moved from the Atlanta bureau
to New York City, which takes a dim view of and has limited
opportunities for paintball.
So on most days when I come home from work, I “recreate” at
home doing odd chores and reading. (Latest great book I’ve read:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.) My wife Joyce and I spend a lot of
time traveling to visit our children and grandchildren, all of whom are
now in New York. My daughter is a doctor who lives on the Upper East
Side, and Jeffrey lives in Hoboken (when he is not in Iraq or otherwise
on some gut-wrenching assignment for the Times).
13. You and your wife Joyce, a psychotherapist with a private practice
in Evanston, are celebrating your 40th anniversary this year. [They are
pictured at left with their son Jeff.] Congratulations! Do you have any
exciting plans to celebrate? And can you tell us the story of your
meeting and courtship?
Joyce and I met my junior year in college, when I transferred from the
University of Florida to Boston University and she was my downstairs
neighbor in an apartment building in Back Bay. It sounds corny, but it
really was love at first sight (for me at least; Joyce took a bit of
convincing). We were married the next year and moved to Chicago when I
started law school at Northwestern in 1965. We are planning a trip to
Hawaii to celebrate our 40th, and will actually be in New York with our
children and grandchildren for our anniversary on December 23. It is
hard to believe that so many years have passed; I still feel like a 21
year old kid. Hopefully Joyce does too.
14. Your two children are highly accomplished professionals. Your
daughter Lynn is a doctor, a graduate of the Stanford Medical School,
who practices pediatrics in New York. Your son Jeffrey is a prominent
reporter for the New York Times, who has spent a significant amount of
time in Iraq (where he was kidnapped and held for a time by insurgents
What are your thoughts on your children's occupations? On a related
note, if you had not entered the legal profession, what do you think
you would have become instead?
You have hit on one of my favorite subjects: my children [pictured at
right, with Judge Gettleman's oldest grandson; click on the thumbnail
for a better view of Jeff Gettleman's bodacious body]. I said at my
induction that until I had gotten my appointment to the federal bench I
believed I would always be best known for the accomplishments of my
children. (At that time Lynn was just entering medical school and
Jeffrey was beginning his two years at Oxford as a Marshall Scholar.) I
still think that is true.
As you note, Lynn Chehab (nee Gettleman) is a pediatrician in New York,
and is in the middle of a public heath fellowship at Columbia. Her
husband, Eric, is finishing his orthopedic residency at the Hospital
for Special Surgery. They have two great sons and I am very proud of
all of their accomplishments, especially Lynn’s plan to go into
public health rather than into a higher paying career.
Of course, I am also extremely proud of Jeffrey, who has been a great
success as a journalist. He first decided on this career when he was at
Oxford, where he ended up as the first non-British Editor in Chief of
the Cherwell (the Oxford daily student paper) since Rupert Murdoch. The
downside to all of this is that he takes assignments in some very
dangerous places. When he was with the L.A. Times he reported from
Egypt, Yemen and Afghanistan, and as you mentioned he spent the first
six months of 2004 in Iraq, where he was involved in some serious
combat as well as being kidnaped. After that event, every time the
phone rang I was afraid it was a call telling me something had happened
to Jeff. We are glad that he is back, although he plans to return to
Iraq in January to cover the so-called elections there. Jeff has
written extensively in the Times about his Iraq experiences, and has a
lengthy article on the subject (along with a number of photos) in the
December 2004 issue of GQ.
What would I have become if not a lawyer? Good question. My dad wanted
me to be a dentist (regular hours, good pay, referred to as
“Doctor”; my brother Larry is a dentist but went into
teaching and research instead of practicing). My grandfather wanted me
to be an accountant. (“Everybody needs an accountant,” he
would say. Also, he didn’t like his own accountant.) It is hard
to think that far back, but I was a finance major and loved the
gamesmanship of the market. So I’d probably have gone in that
direction and been rich by now.
15. For example, you could have become a tree. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
This is easy -- if I had to be a tree, I would be a coconut palm tree.
They live in balmy climates, bend with the wind, survive the strongest
gales, and can drop their nuts on anyone at anytime. What could be
16. As you have mentioned in prior interviews, when you were seven
years old, you got polio; you had a brace on your leg until age 17. You
have cited your struggle with childhood polio as one of the factors
that led you to become involved with disability rights issues as an
attorney. Has the experience of overcoming polio affected you as a
judge or otherwise contributed to the perspective that you bring to
cases (disability-related or otherwise)?
My experience with polio and having a disability has certainly been a
major factor in shaping my life. As a child, and even as an adult, I
have known what it is like to be different and to be treated as
different. I think this makes me a better person. I believe a lot of
the mistakes that are made in society are caused by the lack of
understanding by people in positions of authority towards the
powerless. Earned privilege is one thing; inherited privilege is quite
another. My interaction with the disability community during my years
of practice was, in a word, inspiring. Some of the people I met during
that time are among the most outstanding people I have ever met
(notably Marca Bristo of Access Living of Chicago, Tony Coelho, and too
many others to name). Their determination to break down the barriers
that have segregated and discriminated against people with disabilities
has resulted in some of the finest civil rights achievements of our
time. I am proud to have been a small part of that effort.
Of course, this experience, as well as my own personal experience
dealing with a disability, contributes to my judicial perspective, just
as Thurgood Marshall’s civil rights experience contributed to
his. I am disheartened by some of the decisions from the Supreme Court
concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the apparent desire
by members of that court to construe the ADA narrowly rather than as a
broad-reaching civil rights statute. One of the distinguishing features
of disability rights, as compared to civil rights generally, is that
all of us may become members of the protected class -- and if we live
long enough, we all will acquire disabilities. The ADA represents a
major effort to level the playing field for people with disabilities,
while respecting the realities, both economic and social, concerning
the degree of accommodation that must be accorded to this significant
portion of our population (estimated to be some 43 million at the time
the ADA was passed in 1988). We are just beginning our struggle to
fulfill the promise of this important legislation, and I enjoy
wrestling with the difficult issues presented by the cases in our court.
17. Concerning the wheels of justice, rumor has it that you own a
classic Porsche, "which you drive like a cabbie." Can you comment on
The rumors are true in part and scurrilously false in part. I own a
1974 911 Targa, which is in great running shape and which I enjoy
driving in the nice weather (remember this is Chicago). Since I respect
the First Amendment, I will not demand that you tell me the source of
the comment that I “drive [the Porsche] like a cabbie.”
This is totally untrue. I am a very careful driver. Honest.
18. "Calgon, take me away!" Sometimes the pressures of life as a
district judge, including all those pesky litigants, must lead you to
want to speed away in your Porsche. Do you have any expensive habits or
guilty pleasures that you like to indulge in when you need to get away
from it all?
At our salary, there aren’t many “expensive habits”
that I could afford (the Porsche doesn’t really cost very much to
keep up). Nor do I have many “guilty” pleasures. I enjoy
coming home to the same house I have lived in for 35 years, to the same
woman I have been married to for the past 40 years, and settling down
with a good book, the New York Times, or a good movie. I enjoy cooking,
and find that it is a great transition from the work day to the
evening. Our only real indulgences are traveling and theatre. We have
three theatre subscriptions in Chicago (which, to the surprise of many,
may just be the greatest theatre town in the country), and spend a very
long weekend at the Stratford Festival in Ontario each summer. Theatre
doesn’t get much better than that.
19. Outside your courtroom, there is a bulletin board featuring
various law-related cartoons (which your minute clerk maintains, but
which you contribute to from time to time). Also, rumor has it that you
enjoy reading The Onion every now and then. Your sense of humor might
be surprising to some people, given the idea many people have in their
minds of serious and stern federal judges. What do you think is the
appropriate role of humor in the courtroom, as well as in the federal
judiciary more generally?
Remember, from the “Mikado,” that one of the first
categories on the Lord High Executioner’s hit list was the
“judicial humorist.” I am dismayed sometimes to read
appellate opinions that make lame attempts at humor. Although I have
been tempted on many occasions to do so myself, I try to put myself in
the shoes of the litigant reading the opinion. To anyone on the losing
side, there is usually nothing funny about the opinion or the result.
This is not to say that there are not occasions in which humor may be
appropriate. For example, in a case not too long back -- JCW v.
Novelty, Inc., 222 F. Supp. 2d 1030 (N.D. Ill. 2002), a copyright and
trademark dispute involving farting dolls -- I began my opinion with:
“If imitation is the highest form of flattery, can flatulence be
far behind?” Everyone involved in this case understood the humor,
and it was not made at anyone’s expense. [Click here to
read the opinion in pdf form, and here for commentary.]
In the courtroom, humor can sometimes break the tension, but it must be
used sparingly and sensitively. Sometimes the lawyers and I will be
joking around in a criminal case, and I will glance at the defendant
who is totally bewildered by what we find to be funny. So, as tempting
as it is to engage in humorous banter, I think every judge should be
careful to maintain the dignity of the courtroom and to be sensitive to
20. According to a 1997 profile of you that appeared in the
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, your federal judicial apotheosis began when
the late Senator Paul Simon suggested you to President Clinton as a
nominee for a district court judgeship. Interestingly enough, at the
time of your nomination, you were not a friend of -- or fundraiser for
-- Senator Simon.
As you stated in your interview with the Bulletin, "God bless Paul
Simon. He said that he would do merit selection. I didn't know him. I
was not involved in politics at all. I applied for this job never
thinking I had a prayer to get it. And the rest is history." On August
16, 1994, you were nominated by the president; less than two months
later, after Senate confirmation, you had your presidential commission
firmly in hand.
It appears that the judicial nomination and confirmation processes have
changed quite a bit in the decade since your 1994 nomination to the
bench. What are your thoughts on the judicial nomination and
confirmation processes as they stand today? And what advice would you
offer to A3G concerning how to transform herself from "Article III
Groupie" to "Article III Goddess"?
At my induction, I began by thanking Anita Hill for my appointment. If
it weren’t for Anita Hill, Carol Moseley Braun would never have
been elected Senator from Illinois, displacing Alan Dixon, who would
have become the Senior Senator and been in charge of suggesting judges
for nomination to the President (no doubt on a political spoils basis).
As a result of Carol’s beating Dixon, Paul Simon became the
senior Senator from Illinois and made good on his word by establishing
a merit selection procedure. Almost on a lark, I applied for the job
and, to my great surprise, made the list of finalists for the first
group of vacancies. Although I wasn’t selected then, two
additional vacancies occurred and I was the next person selected by
Senator Simon, also to my surprise. My most effective supporters came
from the “disability rights” community, for whom I had the
privilege of litigating a number of pro bono cases during my career. I
also had the support of Abner Mikva, with whom I practiced law for
several years in the early 1970s. Ab has been a friend and inspiration
to me since I first met him in the late 1960s when he was running for
Congress in the Hyde Park district in which we then lived.
The entire confirmation process took about six months, which was
average for those days. I encountered no opposition, and merely had to
bare my soul and that of my family to the Justice Department. It is a
pretty gut-wrenching experience under any circumstances, especially for
someone who had no political background and no inkling of the vagaries
Obviously, since 1994 there has been some deterioration in the
confirmation process, although I am not sure about this at the district
court level. Most of the nasty judicial confirmation fights have been
at the circuit court level, and the judges who have been appointed in
recent years both under the Clinton and Bush administrations seem to
have gotten through the confirmation process without too much trouble.
In Illinois, both Paul Simon, under Clinton, and Peter Fitzgerald,
under Bush, have done good jobs in selecting judicial nominees for the
As for giving advice to A3G about how to transform herself from an
Article III Groupie to an Article III Goddess, I can only offer the
advice Judge Swygert gave to me when I asked him a similar question
many years ago: “Get to know a senator well.” Although that
wasn’t the case with me, it sure doesn’t hurt.
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