Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sandy Levinson: 'Justice Margaret McKeown?'

This is a bit off-topic for this blog, but, as a point of personal privilege, I wholeheartedly endorse this post by University of Texas Law School professor Sandy Levinson:
I want to suggest one more potential nominee from the existing bench, Judge Margaret McKeown of the Ninth Circuit. (I should note, in the spirit of declaring any special interest, that my daughter clerked, very happily, for Judge McKeown some five years ago.) I mentioned Diane Wood's having graduated from U.T. As a matter of fact, I think it would be wonderful to have someone (besides Justice Stevens) on the Court who did not go to Harvard or Yale (and who did not hale from the Northeast). Right now, only Justices Stevens and Kennedy are from west of the Appalachians, and it has, I suspect, been years since either has spent much time in their home areas. (We know that Justice Stevens now spends most of his time in Palm Beach, Florida.) This degree of regional parochialism cannot be good either for the Court or for the country.

Judge McKeown is a native of Wyoming and, indeed, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wyoming, Phi Beta Kappa. She went on to receive her law degree from Georgetown (i.e., not Harvard or Yale). She has worked on Capitol Hill for a Wyoming senator, I believe, and was a White House Fellow, where she was assigned to Cecil Andrus, Carter's Secretary of the Interior. She went to Seattle, where she became the first female partner in the city's leading law firm. Much of her work involved high tech and intellectual property. She was named to the Ninth Circuit by President Clinton in 1996, confirmed by the Senate a mere two years later (by a vote of 80-11). She moved to San Diego several years ago, where she now has her chambers (and does adjunct teaching at the University of San Diego Law School).

Although, technically, she is now a Californian, she is far more from the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest, a region unrepresented on the Court certainly since Justice White retired. She would, in every way, be a fine addition to the Court, especially if prior judicial experience is thought to be highly relevant. From my perspective, it is more important that she actually knows something about high tech and intellectual property, not to mention such issues as the Indian law--a subject, I suspect, basically unknown to the other potential nominees--and water law, which I suspect will start showing up with greater frequency on the Supreme Court's docket.

So, as the President looks around for someone who would contribute to the "team" that is the U.S. Supreme Court, I hope that he gives careful consideration to Judge McKeown.
I clerked for Judge McKeown, and am thus hopelessly biased. That said, I am in a position to be able to say that Prof. Levinson is entirely right. I agree with everything he wrote, and would add that Judge McKeown is extremely smart, hardworking, and fair. I remember her approaching every case by asking what I consider to be exactly the right questions: What does the statute say? What do the cases say? What does the record say? She manages to exasperate both the most liberal and most conservative judges on the Ninth Circuit from time to time, which is just how it should be.

Another notable thing about Judge McKeown -- and something that distinguishes her from many other appellate court judges -- is her engagement with the real world. The life of an appellate judge can be virtually monastic, insulated from the day-to-day life of lawyers and their clients. But Judge McKeown makes every effort to avoid a purely ivory-tower existence, by teaching, lecturing, meeting with practicing, lawyers, traveling internationally to interact with foreign judges and attorneys -- not to mention hiking and playing tennis with her clerks, current and former. And her more than 20 years' experience as a litigator at Perkins Coie (where she was the first female partner) help remind her that her opinions are not academic treatises, but rulings that will have real and immediate impact on attorneys and parties.

Not that anyone asked, but I enthusiastically second Prof. Levinson's endorsement.

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