I started bouncing an idea around in my head this weekend while all of the Sunday Morning news shows were discussing Justice Stevens’ retirement. “If I had to replace Justice Stevens with a law librarian… who would I pick?” Now, you may chuckle about the idea of having a law librarian as Supreme Court Justice, but it may not be that far of a stretch to think of someone with the skills of a law librarian to put on the black robes and write judicial opinions. In October of 2008, US News and World Report said that the “Best Nonpolitical Job” for a political junkie was a librarian. The US Supreme Court is supposed to rise above the fray of politics, so who better to do that than a law librarian?
If I weren’t limited by the fact that serving on the Court requires you to be alive, my choices would have immediately gone to two personal legends in the field; Roy Mersky (1925-2008) of the University of Texas or Bob Oakley (1945-2007) of Georgetown University. Both were known as “giants” in the field of law librarianship and deeply respected for their leadership. Although I’d only met Roy Mersky a few times, it was clear that he commanded whatever room he was in. I had the pleasure of serving with Bob Oakley on the American Association of Law Libraries’ (AALL) Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age special committee, where Bob made sure that all of the committee members stayed on task. However, since Merksy and Oakley are no longer around, who are the giants of the law library field that we could nominate today?
We could look at the list of past presidents from AALL for names of leaders within the field. Cornell’s Claire Germain (2005-2006) jumped off the list as someone that commands a room like a Roy Mersky. Claire would most likely make a great Justice, but her French accent may not play well on some of those cable news networks. Another great choice might be Barbara Bintliff (2001-2002) who was just announced as the new law library director for the University of Texas. I’m not sure if Barbara is willing to give up a great position in the capital of Texas to take up one in Washington, DC at this moment. How about someone like Mark Estes (1992-1993) from the Alameda County law library? Mark and I have made some appearances lately on Rich Leiter’s Law Librarian Conversation podcasts, so I hope I haven’t diminished his chances for nomination.
How about someone that is not on the AALL past president’s list? There are a few names out there that always seem to be discussed in law librarian circles. Jim Milles from the University of Buffalo would be a good choice. Although, anyone that knows Jim might think that his trail of blog posts might make him a target of some within the Senate confirmation hearings. Tom Bruce of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII), might be another law librarian to consider (note: although, not officially a law librarian, his work with LII earns him an honorary title). Tom’s work with LII, and his current affiliation with Carl Malamud’s LAW.gov effort might also make for some interesting Senate hearing discussions.
With the exception of Mark Estes, it seems that the picks for law librarians to replace Justice Stevens have an academic bias. So, let’s pick a couple of names from law firms. There’s Bob Oaks from Latham and Watkins. That would be an easy choice since he’s already right there in Washington, DC. There’s also the famous “Al of Cleveland” Podboy from Baker Hostetler. However, I just don’t think that Al Podboy would want to give up the comforts of Cleveland and move to Washington. My personal favorite in the law firm category would be Steven Lastres of Debevoise and Plimpton. Anyone that can master libraries, knowledge management, and records management (and I’m sure a few more departments on top of those) should be able to step right in to the Court without blinking an eye.
[Note: It was pointed out to me that I did not list any women law firm librarians on this list despite the fact that probably 80% or more of the AmLaw 100 library directors are women. I apologize, for there are a number of qualified women that make the list with Jean O’Grady from DLA Piper being one, and Gitelle Seer from Dewey & LeBoeuf being another of a long list.]
I’m sure there are a number of well qualified law librarians I missed on my very short list of potential replacements for Justice Stevens. So, if I missed your name, or someone that you would like to see nominated for the high court, chime in below.