Goddess Themis of justice with a sword.
National figures from law, politics, news and higher education to gather to discuss growing threats to the judiciary

Nearly 40 major figures from the legal, judicial, political, academic and media worlds will gather in Chicago on May 26 to discuss growing threats to the independence and impartiality of courts in the United States and other democracies, and how to counter the threats. 

Democracy’s Last Line of Defense: A Symposium on Why and How to Preserve the Rule of Law and an Independent, Impartial Judiciary will take place Thursday, May 26, at The Old Post Office in Chicago. Full details, including a link to register, can be found at the website of The National Judicial College.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Former United States Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who will give the keynote
  • Six current and former justices of state and U.S. territorial supreme courts, four of them chief justices, including Tani Cantil-Sakauye of California and Anne M. Burke of Illinois
  • Ukraine Supreme Court Justice Ganna Vronska
  • Current American Bar Association President Reginald Turner and former ABA President Judy Perry Martinez
  • Former Republican National Committee Chair and Montana Governor Marc Racicot
  • Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, author and frequent commentator Erwin Chemerinsky
  • Current and former state and federal judges
  • Equal Justice Society President and Co-Founder Eva Paterson
  • NYU School of Law Stokes Professor of Law Melissa Murray
  • Mother Jones Magazine Bureau Chief and MSNBC on-air analyst David Corn
  • Former Newsweek legal affairs editor David A. Kaplan, author of “The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court in the Age of Trump.” 

The daylong event will feature panel discussions on a wide range of threats to the impartiality and independence of courts, including partisan pressure, disinformation spread through social media, and racial bias. For example, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reported that in 2021, legislators in 16 states introduced 37 bills that would have put pressure or restrictions on judicial decision-making, targeted individual judges for unpopular rulings, or taken away courts’ authority to manage their own rules or resources. Five such bills were enacted.

The penultimate portion of the symposium will have the speakers and audience members mix in groups   and use design thinking to brainstorm ideas on how to counter these threats.

Registration for the symposium is $395 for law firm professionals and $145 for all others and includes a reception the evening before at the Fairmont Chicago at Millennium Park.

The event is being organized by the Judicial Independence Collaborative, a newly formed consortium of The National Judicial College, the Berkeley Judicial Institute of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, the Berkeley Law Civil Justice Research Initiative and Robins Kaplan LLP. This symposium is the first in a planned annual series on this topic.

Roman Silberfeld, immediate past president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and a partner at the law firm Robins Kaplan LLP, said: “Many people know about the decline of democracy and ascent of totalitarian regimes across the globe. Fewer realize that independent, impartial judiciaries act as a guardrail for a free society. This event is about finding ways to guard the guardrail.”

National Judicial College President Benes Aldana noted that a survey of the College’s more than 13,000 alumni suggested that 9 out of 10 judges believe judicial independence is threatened.

“Judges understand the stakes of having courts rigged to serve partisan or other special interests rather than the rule of law,” he said. “This symposium is just one example of our standing up for judicial independence, which the Model Code of Judicial Conduct compels all judges to do.”

The event is being sponsored by the organizers listed above along with these Founding Sponsors: Law School Admission Council, American College of Trial Lawyers, Flaschner Judicial Institute, Allstate Insurance, Roman Silberfeld, JAMS, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, Quarles & Brady LLP, Susman Godfrey LLP, Edward Blumberg, Esq., Cliff Edwards, Esq., Keller Rohrback Law Offices L.L.P., Signature Resolution and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP

Contact: Ed Cohen, Director of Communications/Marketing
egcohen@judges.org, 775-327-8285 or 574-386-8915 (cell)
Note: Media covering the event are welcome to attend at no cost, but advance notice is required for security reasons. Call or write to me to arrange for a ticket and name badge.

NJC News