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Remarks by Justice Joette Katz at the presentation of the CBA Henry Naruk Award
presented to Justice Katz during the Connecticut Bar Association's Annual Meeting Luncheon held on Monday, June 7, 2004 in New Haven

I'd like to begin by recognizing my family: my husband, Dr. Philip Rubin, my daughter, Samantha Katz, who are with me today, and my son, Jason Rubin, who is working at the University of Pennsylvania this summer but who is with me in spirit, as always. I also want to thank the Bar Association for this most distinguished award presented in the name of such an outstanding jurist -- Judge Henry Naruk. I'd like to take this opportunity to briefly address what being a judge means to me.

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Biography of Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz

Judges' Corner


Judicial independence is a subject that has gotten a great deal of attention in recent years. Typically it refers to independence from executive and legislative interference with decisions of the judiciary. The term generally deals with the entangling of the 3 separate branches of government and the efforts to keep decisions of the judiciary free from pressure or influence by the other 2 branches. Common concerns related to limitations on our jurisdiction as well as statutory provisions addressing salary and terms, are all things arising out of the structure of our government. This structural approach to judicial independence is, however, but one way to approach the subject. I would like to address for a brief moment limitations other than those posed by other branches of government because in reality, the structural infringements by these considerations remain largely in the background, as well they should. After all few of us are like the judge in Miracle on 34th Street presiding over the trial of a man who claims to be Santa Claus. As many of you recall, the judge's political sponsor, played by William Frawley, tells him to decide the case in favor of the defendant Kris Kringle if he wants to retain his judgeship. Similarly, we are not typically identified with the names of the governors who appointed us the ways federal judges are to the appointing presidents as a shorthand for supposed political ideology.

So what do I think of when I think of judicial independence. I guess I define it best by what it is not. Independence does not mean the freedom to decide cases autonomously as one sees fit. We do not decide cases according to what we think is right, but rather according to what the law is. If we listened only to our inner compass, we would pay no regard to precedent and by our decisions, we would create no precedent.

Nor does the judge have the freedom to write or speak on topics of her choice. We are limited to issues that arise out of the litigation before us. A great example of this point is Ambrose Bierce's fable:

"An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was sitting by a river when a traveler approached and said: "I wish to cross. Will it be lawful to use this boat?" "It will," was the reply: "it is my boat." The traveler thanked him, and pushing the boat into the water embarked and rowed away. But the boat sank and the traveler was drowned. "Heartless man!" said an indignant spectator. "Why did you not tell him that your boat had a hole in it?" "The matter of the boat's condition," said the great jurist, "was not brought before me." Although that is an extreme example, it is not an aberrant one.

We also do not have the freedom associated with tenure in academia. A judge is limited to the particular case and controversy before her. To demonstrate how different this is from academia, imagine a world in which an academic could only write on those issues and topics raised by her students in class. But although judges, unlike academics, do not operate solely in the world of ideas, academics do not operate in the world of coercion. In the words of Robert Cover, "Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death . . . signaling and occasioning the imposition of violence upon others: A judge articulates his understanding of a text, and as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life." Although this sounds a little over dramatic, it illustrates the point that, as judges, we have to make choices between competing alternatives, often with full awareness of the fact that no one option stands out as right and that every option has an impact on someone's life.

And finally, pursuant to the Code of Judicial Conduct, judges face an array of limitations on what we can say and where we can say it. The confluence of limitations on what judges can say in public and in the context of a case is a REAL restraint on the ability of judges to influence the general shape of the law.

So where does our freedom come in? Is the independence of which I speak synonymous with neutrality? That is to say no preference for one party or another, no bias? Part of what it means to be independent is to be able to adjudicate cases without being unduly bound by personal or sociopolitical loyalties. Bringing a certain perspective to the bench, in my case a middle class Jewish female, and a former public defender, is different than responding to a fidelity imposed by association. Judges face the possibility of losing status within one's group for not acting or deciding cases as the group demands, but in the end, a judge's sociopolitical group loyalties cannot replace her constitutional ones. Perhaps judicial independence is best explained as the self-satisfaction that the judge is content in her position as a judge with no driving ambition to be anything else. A judge in pursuit of something other than adjudicatory excellence may subordinate her institutional role as a judge to her personal nonjudicial aspirations. Judicial independence is not complete independence in the sense that its possessor may do whatever she wants. Indeed, life offers no such independence under any meaningful circumstances. Everyone must know and appreciate her boundaries. True judicial independence for me then is the knowledge that I have the best job in the world, and that I am unencumbered by anything other than the goal to do that job to the best of my ability. I treat today's honor as a reflection of your sentiment that I am on the right track. Thank you so very much.

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