When welcoming his (many) new colleagues, Judge Sutton has sometimes mentioned his court’s long-lost nickname: “The Learned Sixth.” Many of its earliest judges—Taft, Day, Lurton, Howell Jackson—served as diplomats or law school deans, cooled their heels at the Sixth Circuit, and proceeded to the Supreme Court.
Is the Sixth Circuit recovering its name and reputation? Several current judges have appeared on shortlists of potential Supreme Court nominees. And as for the court’s scholarly output, the judges are keeping busy in the meantime with a steady stream of important writings and speeches.
Judge Sutton—himself an adjunct professor at Ohio State—has spoken all across the country about his 2018 book on federalism and state constitutional law: 51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law.
Judge Joan Larsen, previously a professor at the University of Michigan, was recently honored by the Georgetown Center for the Constitution and deliver the first Thomas Cooley Judicial Lecture. Like Judge Sutton, this professor-turned-judge (see the trend?) is also speaking on federalism: “Respecting Local Control: State Law in the Federal System.”
Judge Bernice Donald recently joined many of her colleagues and members of the Sixth Circuit bar in Cincinnati to deliver the Federal Bar Association’s annual lecture, which she devoted to implicit bias, a topic on which she has focused in connection with the ABA’s Enhancing Justice initiative.
And Judge Ray Kethledge—a lecturer on federal practice at the University of Michigan—cast a broader net in 2017 with a popular book drawing on history and social science: Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, coauthored with Michael Erwin. He also published an important essay in the Vanderbilt Law Review on administrative deference.
The list could go on and on, with important commentary and speeches from several other Sixth Circuit judges appearing on a regular basis. Judge Sutton may have succeeded in reviving the court’s nickname and the reputation it conjures. We’ll be keeping tabs here on what the Learned Sixth produces in the coming months.