Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg keynotes inaugural Colorado Law Bench and Bar Conference

The University of Colorado Law School brought together industry leaders, top practicing lawyers, and members of the judiciary to discuss some of the most important issues facing the legal profession today. The Gathering of the Bench and Bar Conference was held Sept. 19–21.

“I envisioned this conference as a way to not only provide educational opportunities, but also to help students and new graduates expand their professional network,” said Phil Weiser, dean of Colorado Law.

Attendees had the opportunity to learn from and talk with some of the most influential and important legal minds today. The event ran concurrently with the sitting of two hearings of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the Wolf Law Building’s Wittemyer Courtroom, which presented an opportunity for law students and the community to see the appellate process firsthand. 

The keynote speaker, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gave the second annual Stevens Lecture hosted by the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law. Next year Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will deliver the Stevens Lecture.

Ginsberg touched on the highlights and challenges in her personal and professional life, including her accomplishments in shaping gender issues and her experiences on the Supreme Court. 

Ginsburg was appointed as the second female justice, after O'Connor, on the nation's highest court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. "It is the most collegial place I have ever worked," Ginsburg said.

When Ginsburg and O'Connor first served on the court together, they were given t-shirts that made light of people mixing them up, though they look nothing alike. Ginsburg's shirt said, "I'm Ruth, not Sandra."

When asked about some of her rulings, she said, "All people should have the opportunity to aspire and achieve."

During the three-day event, general panels offered discussions on challenges to the legal profession, the rule of law, and declining trust in institutions. A panel considering the impact of the Supreme Court’s health care reform decision included Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, former special advisor for health care to the Office of Management and Budget, and Dr. Robert Kocher, former special assistant to the president on health care, who helped draft the Affordable Care Act. The panel also included the perspective of Paul Clement, former solicitor general of the United States, who argued before the Supreme Court against the constitutionality of the act. Providing a unique perspective on judicial affairs, Jess Bravin, of the Wall Street Journal,  Dahlia Lithwick, of and Newsweek, and Eugene Volokh, of The Volokh Conspiracy, addressed questions posed by Rebecca Askew, owner of Law Week Colorado.  

Themes of diversity, inclusiveness, and access to justice were also topics of discussion. Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, opened the conference discussing challenges to the legal profession. A breakout session on generational diversity brought home the value of mixing youthful energy with mature experience. And in a realistic and thoughtful address, Melissa Hart, director of the White Center and associate professor at Colorado Law, considered how many individuals are without access to the judicial system.