RECENT ARTICLE BY CHIEF JUSTICE STEELE DISCUSSES CHALLENGES JUDGES FACE
When he was invited recently to write about the challenges jurists face in resolving difficult disputes for the fall 2007 issue of the UVA Lawyer, a publication of his alma mater, the University of Virginia, Chief Justice Myron T. Steele decided to focus, not on the numerous corporate cases that Delaware’s courts handle, but on those cases that impact the daily lives of Delaware’s citizens. In the article entitled “Consistency and Balance: A Judge’s Job,” Chief Justice Steele noted that as of April 2007, over 62% of all Fortune 500 companies were incorporated in Delaware and that Delaware’s courts and bar are highly respected for their expertise in corporate matters. However, Chief Justice Steele emphasized that, “[m]y colleagues on the bench and I serve all of Delaware’s citizens, not just our corporate citizens” and many of the Supreme Court’s opinions “directly impact the daily lives of our neighbors in this small state.” It is cases directly affecting Delaware citizens which frequently provide the greatest challenges for the Court. Chief Justice Steele explained:
“In Delaware, we are fortunate to have appointed judges who do not have to focus on funding their next reelection or retention campaign. Nevertheless, we are certainly mindful that the decisions we make can set far-reaching precedents and inevitably will disappoint or even anger legislators and citizens whose respect and support are vital to our work. Public opinion is never far away, especially in the small, highly personalized environment that is Delaware. But being aware of the community in which one lives in order to find pragmatic solutions to disputes must ultimately be balanced with the independence and objectivity each jurist must possess. Our task is to apply the law to the facts of the specific case before us and not to use cases to express personal views or to make policy consistent with those views.”
Another difficult task for judges, Chief Justice Steele stated, is applying existing precedent to new areas of the law. An example he cited was a recent case decided by the Court involving the first amendment rights of bloggers, in which the Court was called upon to “appropriately balance one person’s right to speak anonymously against another person’s right to protect his reputation.”
Concluding that consistency in successfully balancing competing interests is a key component to judging, Chief Justice Steele stated:
“Regardless of legal context, all judges daily face the difficult task of understanding the competing interests of parties, providing a fair and impartial forum for advancing those interests, and ultimately balancing those interests by disposing of disputes in a way that is just, comports with law and equity, and preserves the integrity of the system. We can only hope we do it consistently well.”
In its September 2007 issue, the Directorship, a leading magazine for public company board directors, named the Delaware Courts — the Court of Chancery and the Supreme Court — on its list of the most influential individuals and institutions that are shaping agendas in boardrooms across America. In placing the Delaware Courts as number 5 on its list of the top 100 influential players in corporate governance, the Directorship noted that the Delaware Courts have frequently “established the tone and legal direction of corporate governance in America” and that the Court of Chancery is often referred to as ‘the chief arbiter of right and wrong in Corporate America.” No other courts were included in the top Directorship 100.