by Kayleigh Long, 2L Note Candidate
In a political climate of gridlock where the Senate refused to act on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminded the nation of the art on how to disagree vehemently within the bounds of civility after the untimely passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. As several commentators remarked, “[t]hough the liberal Ginsburg and conservative Scalia frequently sparred over judicial matters, they shared a deep friendship and respect for each other’s intellect and wit.” Fang, Marina, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Remembers Antonin Scalia, Her Dear Friend and Sparring Partner, THE HUFFINGTON POST (Feb. 14, 2016, 2:14 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/scalia-ginsburg-friendship_us_56bfb717e4b0b40245c6f436 [https://perma.cc/M8B5-TCNZ]. This past April, the Indiana Supreme Court saw its own departure of the role model of civility with the retirement of Justice Brent E. Dickson.
As the authors of In Majority and Dissent: Justice Dickson’s Contribution to Indiana Criminal Law point out, Dickson’s time spent on the Indiana Supreme Court helped spur reforms to Indiana criminal law, and he wrote almost nine hundred opinions. In the wake of Dickson’s retirement, testimony of his character repeated itself throughout the legal community. Indiana Justice Steven David characterized Dickson as “Captain Civility,” and Indiana Justice Robert D. Rucker described him as being “cool, collected, rock solid and a steady hand.” Nelson, Jennifer, Dickson’s Tenure on Supreme Court Celebrated, The Indiana Lawyer (Apr. 29, 2016), http://www.theindianalawyer.com/dicksons-tenure-on-supreme-court-celebrated/PARAMS/article/40218 [https://perma.cc/XJ28-WP33]. In Majority and Dissent: Justice Dickson’s Contribution to Indiana Criminal Law outlines specific instances where Dickson responded with civility in both his majority and dissenting opinions throughout various areas of criminal law. Examples the authors point to include formulating helpful jury instructions on the meaning of reasonable doubt and the jury’s role in determining law and fact.
As the American public faced a contentious presidential election and a stalled Congress with just an eleven percent approval rating, the Hoosier state just experienced a period of judicial reform within criminal law without sacrificing civil, working relationships on the Indiana Supreme Court bench for the past three decades. Shabad, Rebecca, Congress’ Approval Rating Drops to 11 Percent, CBS News (Nov. 11, 2015, 3:45 PM), http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-congress-approval-rating-drops-to-11-percent/ [http://perma.cc/3KGY-QGQR]. When it appears that those in the three branches of government cannot seem to get along or accomplish meaningful change, Justice Dickson’s tenure reminds us civility and efficiency are still possible.
To read more about Justice Dickson’s contributions to Indiana criminal law check out In Majority and Dissent: Justice Dickson’s Contribution to Indiana Criminal Law in this issue of the Indiana Law Review. Daylon L. Welliver & Joel M. Schumm, In Majority and Dissent: Justice Dickson’s Contribution to Indiana Criminal Law, 50 Ind. L. Rev. 15 (2016) (available at http://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol50p15.pdf).