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How Courts Are Coping


Vol. 104 No. 3 (2020-21) | Judges on the March | Download PDF Version of Article
Judge Don Willett Portrait

From the Chair of the Editorial Board

When 2020 debuted, the term “COVID-19” was not yet in the world’s lexicon. As 2020 winds down (finally!), the pandemic is omnipresent. The coronavirus has upended everything, including the administration of justice. As Chief Justice John Roberts aptly observed, COVID-19 has “pierced our illusion of certainty and control.” This issue of Judicature continues to examine how courts are coping with COVID and fulfilling solemn duties amid unprecedented challenges. Justice never sleeps — nor, in 2020, logs off.

In “The Zooming of Federal Civil Litigation,” an all-star trio — U.S. Chief District Judge Lee Rosenthal, Professor Scott Dodson, and Big Law partner Christopher Dodson — discuss how videoconferencing has changed litigation practice and what changes are worth keeping. Relatedly, U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad offers “Jury Trials in a Pandemic Age,” describing his court’s successful experience with in-person jury trials.

This issue also features three timely articles on security, both physical and online. David Slayton, director of the Texas Office of Court Administration, discusses the Texas judiciary’s recent experience with a devastating ransomware attack on its computer network. U.S. Circuit Judge David McKeague, who chairs the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Security, itemizes five steps Congress can take to better protect federal judges. And Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals and Joseph Baxter, state court administrator of Rhode Island, offer a piece on state judges’ safety.

This issue’s Point-Counterpoint is a doozy, showcasing the raging debate over the doctrine of qualified immunity. Depending on your view, QI either commendably frees government officials from the burdens of litigation, or condemnably absolves officials of law-breaking. Joining the discussion are Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, Clark Neily and Jay Schweikert of the Cato Institute, and Fred Smith, Jr., of Emory Law.

In the Storied Third Branch, Judge Timothy Corrigan toasts his former boss, the Honorable (and inimitable) Gerald Tjoflat, an epic judicial figure in American life who joined the federal bench 50 years ago and was, until recently, America’s longest-serving federal judge in active service!

Finally, professors Terry Moe and William Howell review After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, the new book co-authored by Bob Bauer (White House Counsel to President Barack Obama) and Jack Goldsmith (head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush) that proposes 50 concrete reforms for the world’s most powerful office.

At this topsy-turvy time, the judicial branch needs all the friends it can get. It recently gained a furry one. Here’s my new paw clerk, Amicus. (Middle name: Harlan, for The Great Dissenter, the first Justice Harlan, who heroically dissented in Plessy v. Ferguson and in the Civil Rights Cases.) Amicus is the ultimutt friend of the court, though admittedly, his first drafts are a little . . . ruff.

— Judge Don R. Willett
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit