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January 10, 2011

The Judges Among Us

Amid the many tragic stories that came out of the horrific shooting in Tucson this past weekend, I was particularly saddened by the death of John Roll, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Surely the untimely loss of a respected jurist is reason enough for mourning, but I could not exactly pinpoint why his death struck me so hard. I did not know Judge Roll personally, and my professional interactions with him had been minimal -- limited to one case (and never a face-to-face appearance) before him in 2006, and one request for research assistance from his district in 2007. But it has still felt like a very personal loss. Why?

After two days of reflection, I think the answer lies in the level of neighborly familiarity we have with federal judges (and state judges, for that matter). Unlike the President and Congress, who achieve a sort of celebrity status by virtue of election campaigns, and who reside in Washington for all or part of the year, most judges maintain a low profile and live full-time in the communities they serve. When they remove their robes, they are part of that community in exactly the same way we are; through the years, I have run into judges at the supermarket, houses of worship, restaurants and ball games. According to news accounts, Judge Roll went to the Giffords event last Saturday simply to thank her for her support of a measure that would allow his court to better manage its docket. He was a good man, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. For all the death threats that he had received in 2009 based on an unpopular immigration ruling, he was untimely taken from us because of an innocent and rather impromptu decision to extend a personal thank you. It's a decision that any of us could have made; the ordinariness of the action is why it hit so hard for me.

My deepest sympathies to the families of all the victims of this monstrous act. May the wounded be speedily restored to health, and may those who were lost always remain with their loved ones as a blessing.

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