On Feb. 15, the Center for Judicial Events & Clerkships (CJEC) welcomed the Hon. Bernice B. Donald (Ret.) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to Fordham Law as its 2023 Jurist in Residence.
The Jurist in Residence Program brings prominent judges from across the country to the Law School to engage with the Law School community and share their expertise. During the course of their visit, the judge engages in all aspects of law school life, from co-teaching courses to hosting roundtable discussions with student cohorts on a range of topics. The judge’s visit culminates with the distinguished jurist in residence lecture welcoming an audience of students, faculty, staff and alumni to hear about a timely and important legal topic of interest. The lecture is subsequently published in the Fordham Law Review.
CJEC Director Professor James Brudney reflected on the glowing reviews from students and faculty. “Judge Donald made lasting contributions to the Fordham Law community during her day in residence: her dynamic interaction with numerous student groups, her powerful memories and images from lived experience in the segregated South, and her wise counsel as to how the rule of law can make a difference in so many lives.”
Distinguished Jurist in Residence Lecture: Overcoming Division, Discrimination, and Distance Through the Rule of Law
Titled “Toward a More Perfect Union: Overcoming Division, Discrimination, and Distance Through the Rule of Law,” Judge Donald’s lecture explored a number of topics, including the roles implicit bias plays inside and outside the courtroom and ways in which we can overcome such biases to reach a more perfect union. Judge Donald also spoke about how the rule of law helps maintain democracy and the ways in which we can overcome existing divisions when the United States is more stratified than ever. She acknowledged the accomplishments we, as a country, have made through the rule of law as well as the distance we still have to go.
“Democracy cannot be a spectator sport,” said Judge Donald to the packed room of Fordham Law students, faculty, and alumni. “All of us must play an active role. And while none of us can do everything, all of us must do something to make certain that we’re doing our part to promote notions of equality, diversity and inclusion.”
“You have an opportunity to really interact with people, to learn the fullness and wholeness of their experience, to learn their story, and to have them learn your story,” said Judge Donald. “And, in learning each of their stories, you’re going to find that there is more in common than there is difference. When we learn that we can enlarge the pie and that everybody can enjoy the lessons of liberty, then we can overcome that fear that keeps us divided. There is enough in these United States for all of us to prosper.”
The lecture was immediately followed by a reception, during which Judge Donald graciously spoke with Fordham Law School community members and elaborated further on points raised in her lecture.
Engaging with the Fordham Law Community
Throughout her visit, Judge Donald participated in a range of formal and informal activities at the Law School. Judge Donald began her day over coffee and pastries with student leaders of the Law School’s chapters of the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society discussing ways in which the two organizations could find common ground and work together. She enjoyed an informal lunch with student members of Fordham Law affinity groups. Judge Donald’s activities were equally impactful on the academic side, co-teaching a day section of Legislation & Regulation with Professor Ethan J. Lieb and an evening Evidence class with Professor Daniel J. Capra and enjoying an informal afternoon coffee discussing legal developments with members of the faculty.
“Judge Donald’s visit was simply remarkable in terms of the scope of her engagement and impact on our community, which will be long-lasting,” said Suzanne M. Endrizzi ’96, CJEC assistant dean. “Her brilliance as a jurist is only overshadowed by her warmth and authenticity.”
A Path-Breaking Force for Justice
Judge Donald was nominated to the Sixth Circuit by President Barack Obama in December 2010 and renominated in January 2011. She was confirmed 96-2 by the Senate in September 2011, becoming the first Black woman to serve as a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Donald retired from the bench on Jan. 20 of this year.
Prior to joining the Court of Appeals, Judge Donald was appointed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, becoming the first Black woman to serve on that court. In 1988, she was the first Black woman in U.S. history to serve as a bankruptcy judge when she was appointed for the Western District of Tennessee. In 1982, she was elected to Tennessee’s General Sessions Criminal Court, becoming the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the history of the state.
An internationally recognized legal scholar, Judge Donald has taught as faculty for programs in 25 countries including Botswana, Cambodia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, and Mexico, among others. She is also the recipient of over 100 awards for professional, civic, and community activities, including the Martin Luther King Community Service Award, the Benjamin Hooks Award presented in 2002 by the Memphis Bar Foundation, and the William H. Hastie Award presented in 2013 by the Judicial Council for excellence in legal and judicial scholarship and demonstrated commitment to justice under the law. In 2022, Judge Donald became the first judge competitively selected to receive the highest honor of the National Judicial College, the Sandra Day O’Connor Award.
Past Jurists in Residence
The Distinguished Jurist in Residence Program was launched in Spring 2020 during the CJEC’s inaugural year. Since March 2020, the CJEC has welcomed the following judiciary members as its Jurists in Residence:
- Stephen Higginson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (March 2022)
- Lecture Topic: “Judicial Dilemmas After Ten Years on Bench: ‘Curious Judge’ Seeks Law Student Advice”
- Amy St. Eve, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (October 2020)
- Lecture Topic: “What Juries Really Think: Practical Guidance for (Future) Trial Lawyers”
- Solomon Oliver Jr., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio (October 2020)
- Lecture Topic: “Race and Policing: Some Thoughts and Suggestions for Reform”
- Jeffrey Sutton, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (March 2020)
- Lecture Topic: “51 Imperfect Solutions: The Role of States in Protecting Individual Rights”
Visit the CJEC’s FLASH page for more information on past Jurist in Residence lectures here.