How have your
training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve
on the Alabama Supreme Court?
over forty years of real world experience as a lawyer, businessman
& judge. Following my graduation from Yale School of Law, I
served as a law clerk at the United States Supreme Court. I tried
cases as a lawyer at a Birmingham firm, where I practiced law for 12
years. I have cast thousands of votes in cases involving
virtually every area of law as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme
Court. And my decades of experience in the senior management of
one of Alabama’s largest companies has uniquely equipped me for the
challenge of serving as the chief administrator of the entire Alabama
judicial system. Serving as the judicial system’s chief
administrator is a big, big job, as the Chief Justice is responsible
for the management of approximately 2,000 employees and a budget over
$160 million. I believe that it is critically important for the
Chief Justice to have meaningful administrative experience in order to
ensure a high quality, efficient judicial system for all Alabamians.
What do you consider to be the three most important
attributes of a judge?
First, integrity. Second, wisdom. And third, a solid understanding of the law.
What is your judicial philosophy?
I am a
judicial conservative. I have done, and will continue to do, my
best to decide each case that comes before our Court fairly and
impartially – regardless of the parties involved - with faithful
commitment to the fundamental principle that in a democratic republic
judges are to interpret and apply the law, not make it.
How do you define “judicial independence,” and how
important is it to our judicial system?
independence needs to be understood in relation to the separation of
powers. An independent judiciary is a judiciary that remains
independent of influence from the executive and legislative branches of
government. This is the essential foundation of the rule of law.
What is the greatest area of need in the Alabama justice system, and
how should the Supreme Court respond, if at all?
most important need of any organization, including the Alabama justice
system, is to continuously improve quality. This is done in a
number of ways, but a very important factor is the Alabama Judicial
College, which had been discontinued before I became Chief Justice, and
which I have reestablished and enhanced.
Upon my appointment as Chief Justice in 2004, our courts were facing a
significant financial and administrative crisis, as budget shortfalls
had triggered large layoffs of court staff. The result: a
tremendous backlog of cases in courts throughout the state, as the
remaining court system employees, despite their tireless efforts,
simply could not keep pace with the demands of dockets and filings.
Since 2004, however, we have formulated and begun to implement a number
of new initiatives – including E-Filing, E-Appellate, E-Citation, the
Traffic Call Center, and AlaPay – that are improving the quality and
efficiency of justice in Alabama, even at the reduced manpower levels
that our courts are currently facing. In fact, our E-Filing
program has established Alabama as a national leader in the use of
technology, making our courts among the most efficient in the
nation. To learn more about the positive impact of these and
other initiatives, I invite you to review the 2005 Chief Justice’s
Report, which can be found on the Internet at
What part, if any, should public opinion play in the decision of a
In a case before the court, how should a judge handle a conflict
between his/her personal beliefs and the law?
order to maintain the strength and integrity of the rule of law,
personal beliefs (other than a deeply held religious belief) must
always be subordinate to the application of the law. In matters
involving a conflict between the law and a judge’s deeply held
religious beliefs, however, I believe a slightly different analysis
should be employed. A judge’s role is to strictly interpret the
law, not to disregard existing law or create new law because of their
religious beliefs. However, a judge may be confronted with a
situation placing his/her religious beliefs in conflict with the
law. In the event that the judge cannot reconcile a conflict
between his or her religious beliefs and what the law dictates, that
judge should either recuse himself/herself from the proceedings or
resign their office.