In almost thirty-three years on the federal bench I have become an experienced judge-watcher, able to identify the premier judges in the system, nationwide and circuit-wide. I say with total confidence that Norma Shapiro is one of the very best judges in the federal system. I have been familiar with Judge Shapiro's judicial work product for a quarter-century--for three and one-half years as a colleague on the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for well over two decades as a Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, reviewing her cases on appeal. We have also sat together on Third Circuit panels.
Judge Shapiro has written well over a thousand opinions. I obviously have not read them all but I have read quite a number. Her opinions are consistently first rate. They are beautifully structured, well documented, tightly reasoned and thoughtfully conceived. They plainly go through endless drafts, a supposition confirmed by her law clerks, one of whom recalls not only "repeated editing to perfection" of draft opinions, but even "debates over the uses of semicolons." Judge Shapiro's opinions are, needless to say, held in very high regard by the judges of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. She is rarely reversed.
Judge Shapiro has authored opinions in virtually every area of the law. Nothing baffles her--not even the recesses of maritime law. Her ability to identify and clarify key issues in this often arcane area of law is impressive. For example, in Van Muching [sic] & Co. v. M/V Star Mindanao, 630 F. Supp. 433 (E.D. Pa. 1985), Judge Shapiro had to construe British as well as American maritime law in her analysis of the duty to stow cargo aboard seafaring vessels. She cogently and succinctly analyzed the pertinent issues and rendered simple and clear what was, in fact, a complicated set of responsibilities devolving on different parties, including the master of the vessel. It comes as no surprise, of course, that a mind as insightful and precise as hers could accomplish this, and every other task, with such facility.
Judge Shapiro is considered to be a superb trial judge by those who have appeared before her; I know because I have talked to litigants and lawyers, whose praise is very high. Her ability to size up a trial situation and work out problems is uncanny. And she is an excellent settlement judge. One law clerk attributes this to her listening to each side, sizing up what each wants and, then...