As a part of the Centennial Celebration at Gonzaga University School of Law, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals visited the school yesterday, Oct. 3.
“The students were so excited to have this wonderful opportunity – and the courtroom was standing room only. It is an incredible learning experience for students to be able to see oral arguments during their time here. In addition, the judges were kind enough to attend some of our classes and interact with many of our 1L students,” explained Dean Jane Korn.
A Rare Opportunity for Students
In the morning, the three-judge panel of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Paul J. Watford, and Judge Morgan Christen spent time in both Professor Brooks Holland’s Criminal Law class and Professor Michels’ Torts Class. The judges discussed the role of a good litigator, how they each reached the bench, and took questions from students. When asked about the fact that Judge Watford had clerked for him at one point, Judge Kozinski commented, kiddingly, that it just means that he is much harder on Watford, instead of easier. Judge Christen, who grew up in Washington and graduated from the University of Washington and served on the Alaska Supreme Court, joked that it seems both Alaska and Washington try to claim her as native when she was introduced as being “from Washington.”
“It’s hard to imagine a more exciting opportunity for the students. They were rapt, hanging on every word, and in a little over an hour they had a chance to see how judges view advocacy and gain some real insight into how to present an appellate argument effectively to the court.” said Professor Michels.
A Packed Courtroom for the 9th Circuit Sitting
At 1 p.m., the Barbieri Courtroom of the Law School was packed to beyond standing-room only with approximately 350 students, faculty, staff, and community members. After a short introduction by the Dean, the judges and litigators quickly got down to business. The first case, United States v. Sin, hinged on a Judicial determination of the proper protocols required for a Coast Guard issued breathalyzer test of a vessel captain, and posed the question whether a breathalyzer test that had been administered in a manner inconsistent with established protocol could be used to put someone in jail, when it would not be considered sufficient to terminate someone from their job. Several times throughout the oral arguments Chief Judge Kozinski effectively used humor to pose questions that got to the crux of the argument while granting the audience the opportunity to enjoy some levity.
The second case of Slater v. Clarke, drew a much more somber reaction from both the judges and the audience. The question at hand was whether public employees working for, or with, a county prosecutor’s office in the state of Massachusetts could be held civilly liable for decisions they made in the course of their jobs, specifically the decision to not extradite an individual from Washington back to Massachusetts. The justices questioned whether it is realistic to hold a prosecutor or investigator to civil liability for the many daily decisions they make within the scope of their employment. More significantly. the Judges and attorneys discussed the public policy ramifications of this liability.
Finally, the judges heard the case of Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign v. King County which raised significant First Amendment issues. Throughout the arguments, the judges questioned if the King County Metro bus system had effectively declared itself as a “designated public forum” by allowing political ads, which carries additional First Amendment responsibilities. The judges also asked for several specifics from both sides about ads that had been effectively or actually rejected, and if it would be reasonable to expect a bus system to run ads that could cause a major disruption to service.
Celebrating Gonzaga Law’s Centennial
This sitting of the Ninth Circuit Court at Gonzaga Law was a cornerstone event of the Gonzaga University School of Law Centennial Celebration. Other cornerstone events include the April Pursuit of Justice Conference, which is a collaboration of the 3rd International Conference on Hate Studies and the 2nd Conference on Race and the Criminal Justice System.