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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Judges are builders, not designers
Jonathan Pait
September 30, 2005

Over a year ago, Judge William Wilkins – Chief Justice of the Fourth Circuit Court – agreed to speak at a special convocation at Bob Jones University.  No one knew as the date was set that it would be the day that John Roberts was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  His speech was apropos to the day.

His son, Walter Wilkins, introduced the Judge to the 3000 plus in attendance.  He recited a long list of titles that the keynote speaker had held, but concluded his remarks by saying that of all those titles the greatest of them was “Dad.”  His father than took the stage and before beginning his prepared remarks commented on a plane crash that not long ago nearly took the life of the younger Wilkins and his wife.  “If you have someone come to you and tell you that they don’t believe in miracles – send them to me.”

The remarks of the evening were presented as an answer and question event with the speaker both asking and answering the questions.  The primary theme was the proper role of the Judge as he functions behind the bench.  While not controversial in his presentation, this question is at the foundation of the debate between conservatives and liberals.

He told the story of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who shortly after being appointed to the bench was eating lunch with a friend.  As they parted, Holmes climbed into his carriage to leave.  The friend called after him, “Do justice, sir!”  Holmes ordered the driver to stop and opened the door to reply, “That is not my job, sir.  My job is to follow the rule of law.”

He also compared the role of a judge to that of a carpenter.  The builder is presented with the blue print to follow when building the house.  While the carpenter might think that certain changes would be best to the design, it is not his role to make those changes.  The good carpenter follows the blue print.

“Judges make decisions they don’t like every day,” he pointed out.  Sometimes law protects very bad people.  He referred to the case where in Skokie, Illinois a group of Nazi’s wished to march through a neighborhood with a large Jewish population – including holocaust survivors.  In following the rule of law (the First Amendment), the march was allowed. This equal application of the law to the unpopular of our society is the protection of all.

Modest judges and judges humble before the law is what has made our judicial system a success for over 200 years.  Should judges cease to follow the rule of law and begin to dispense their own opinion of justice… the system will fail.  We need more carpenters and fewer architects.

Judge Wilkins is indeed one of those modest and humble judges.  My last image of him in the hall was of this man of power reclining on the edge of the stage signing autograph after autograph requested of students who crowded around the stage.  Around him played three of his grandchildren.  It was as though he had invited the students into his living room.

Let’s hope that now Chief Justice John Roberts is a man of like modesty and humility who knows his role to follow the rule of law.  Let’s pray that the next choice of President George W. Bush to fill the vacancy of Justice O’Connor will also fit this mold.  I know of at least one judge who has set a great example for them to follow.

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Thanks Jonathan, nice article. . . .

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