Saturday, October 28, 2006

Judge Williams' Portrait

On Friday afternoon, I attended the portrait ceremony for Judge Stephen F. Williams of the D.C. Circuit, for whom I clerked in 2001-02. At a certain point in their careers (I'm not sure what the trigger is for this), federal judges typically have their portrait painted, and then hung in a federal courthouse.

Portrait ceremonies are evidently a big deal: I'd never been to one before, but it was probably the most legal talent that I've ever seen in one room. The entire D.C. Circuit was there, as were six members of the Supreme Court (all except Souter, Kennedy, and Alito). There was a person I didn't recognize sitting between Justices Stevens and Thomas. Judge Laurence Silberman later said in conversation that it was Judge Louis Oberdorfer -- a long-time and highly respected district court judge who has to be in his late eighties now.

There were speeches from Williams' colleagues praising his outstanding intellect, integrity, wide-ranging knowledge, and good humor, and then several speeches from former clerks. Jonathan Zittrain's speech was delightfully witty, as he always is. Then afterwards, Judge Williams himself got up to deliver what was described in the program as "Expression of Gratitude." He pointed out the title of his remarks, and noted that when Judge Harry Edwards had his portrait ceremony, his remarks were also titled "Expression of Gratitude." But, Williams said, when Larry Silberman had his ceremony several years ago, his remarks were simply titled "Response." Said Williams, "You might wonder why Silberman would need a 'Response.' The answer is that Justice Scalia had spoken beforehand [here, a motion in Scalia's direction along with laughter from the crowd]."

It was a wonderful occasion, and it paid tribute to someone that I consider the ideal of a federal judge: A brilliant and inquisitive person who does his best to make decisions that are as unbiased as possible.


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