MBA President Warren Fitzgerald awarded U.S. District Judge William G. Young and American Bar Association President Michael S. Greco the MBA’s top honors on Tuesday, May 9.
The first-time event, “Honoring the Profession’s Finest,” awarded Young the Chief Justice Edward F. Hennessey Award and Greco the Gold Medal Award. It was held at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.
“This is the most stunning affirmation of my life’s work. It means more to me at this time than you could ever know,” Young told the audience of 125 people. “If in any way it’s appropriate for me to receive this award, it is only as a trustee for those who go out daily and handle the people’s business on the bench.”
Young gave a thunderous, passionate speech about the need to protect the U.S. Constitution and judicial independence. The issue is as important as ever, he said, relating an event that happened three-and-a-half weeks ago. That is when the U.S. solicitor general’s office informed Young that it was planning to file a writ of mandamus against him. At issue was his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that any finding of fact that warrants incarceration or extending incarceration should be found by a jury, not a judge.
Young said he sees the writ of mandamus — an extraordinary order compelling a court or government official to perform their duties within their mandate — as an attack on judicial independence because it will be easier, he said, for the government to control judicial determinations than jury determinations, which are not subject to such a writ.
“Do not for a moment think that the checks and balances of our Constitution are somehow self-executing. They are not,” he told the audience.
“Those of us who are privileged to serve as constitutional officers must view the Constitution as a call to action. And so I pray that when we all leave here tonight, that we leave here to go to town and city and state and nation to do justice — fiat justitia.”
Greco, a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP and the 2005-2006 ABA president, also spoke about the critical need for judicial independence, both in developing nations and even in the United States.
During the Terri Schiavo incident, he said, legislators made numerous attacks on state and federal judges for doing their jobs.
“It was then that I decided something had to be done to protect the independence of the judiciary,” Greco said.
He commissioned an ABA study that revealed roughly half of all Americans couldn’t identify the three branches of government.
“When I saw those statistics, I had two reactions,” he said. “One, these are lamentable. And two, we have work to do.”
In his visits to places like Kosovo, Albania and Georgia, Greco said he was struck by those countries’ leaders’ hunger for a government system like America’s. His advice to them was simple.
“If you do nothing else, create an independent judiciary and protect it,” he said.
Greco also focused on the overwhelming, unmet legal needs of the poor in this country, challenging the audience members to commit themselves to the ideals embodied in the acts of President John F. Kennedy.
“It is in the spirit of that president that I am incurably hopeful that we can rededicate ourselves to the noblest ideals of the legal profession,” he said. “We must embark on a renaissance of the ideals of the legal profession.”