State supreme courts, like any other institution, benefit as much from change as from continuity, and retiring judges try hard to remind ourselves of that as we step back from our calling and allow others to lead. But while the Utah Supreme Court may well continue to thrive notwithstanding a transition in the center chair on its bench, one can scarcely overstate the extent to which that court and the state it serves have benefited from Chief Justice Christine M. Durham's years of generous service. Certainly, those audibly gasping with shock when she announced her retirement at the end of her final State of the Judiciary Address--about everyone in the room, I am told--would agree. (1)
My friendship with Chief Justice Durham stems from the same sources as my friendships with many other state justices and judges: the national and professional service organizations we support in the hopes of improving our justice system at all levels. I came to know her best through the Conference of Chief Justices, which consists of the fifty-eight highest judicial officers of the states and territories. Chief Justice Durham led the Conference as President during 2009-10, and I served in the same role in 2005-06.
This source of what most rules of evidence would call my personal knowledge of Christine Durham's accomplishments reflects a relatively recent shift in the dynamic of the national judiciary. Throughout much of the nation's history, even judges from the same state had few reasons and fewer occasions for collaborative reflection on how well their state judiciary as a whole provided justice to the citizens of their states. For justices and judges from different states, those reasons and occasions were fewer still. In the last two decades, however, the growing uniformity of state law and the more national nature of legal practice have propelled judges to more frequent collaboration with their colleagues from other states.
Consider the missions of the enterprises in which Christine Durham has been so prominent. For example, as Chief Justice Durham has explained, the Conference of Chief Justices advances the administration of justice in the states by promoting the vitality, independence, and effectiveness of state judicial systems, and by advocating for resources adequate to sustain the running of the state courts. (2) Indeed, since state courts hear more than ninety-five percent of all civil and criminal cases in the country, vibrant state judiciaries are vital to sustaining the rule of law. By bringing...