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Meet the chief judge of the nation’s most divisive, controversial and conservative appeals court

Feb 1, 2014, 10:40 am CST

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Meet the chief judge of the nation’s most divisive, controversial and conservative appeals court
Posted Feb 1, 2014 4:40 AM CST
By Mark Curriden

Long read , but well worth the time , albeit I’m not there yet ☺

By Docile Jim Brady – Columbus OH 43209 on 2014 01 28, 8:48 pm CST

A very proud moment for Shreveport!

By Juanita M. Johnson on 2014 01 29, 4:28 am CST

I clerked for Judge Stewart in 1996-97 and I can honestly say, he was the same then as the article says he is now. I often wished he took more of an aggressive stance on certain issues considering his position, but I later understood why he chose to remain fairly neutral. All a lawyer or any advocate wants is fairness and a chance to present his case, and Judge Stewart creates that atmosphere. I am extremely proud of him and remain honored that he chose me to clerk for him.

By Peter - Houston, Texas on 2014 01 29, 6:11 pm CST

Like Peter, I also clerked for Judge Carl Stewart (but in 1995-1996).  I similarly find the article accurate.  Judge Stewart is a man of tremendous integrity who invariably shows respect for all who deal with him.  It was a wonderful honor to work for him, and I learned a great deal both about the law and about how to work well with others.

By Nadia E. Nedzel on 2014 01 29, 8:26 pm CST

Thank you for this story. Judge Stewart sounds like a truly decent man worthy of sincere respect.

A refreshing contrast to the narcissistic trash littering the legal profession.

By Hedgehog on 2014 01 29, 9:53 pm CST

I was born in Waterproof, la i known everything , saw those sign White & colored we have come a long ways but it still equal.

By Mrs. Adell mickey Kent on 2014 01 30, 4:49 am CST

I practiced in front of Judge Stewart when he was a state District Judge in Louisiana. I’ve never been in front of a more fair judge or a judge with a judiicial temprement close to his. He treated everybody fairly

By Daryl Gold on 2014 01 30, 3:17 pm CST

What a fantastic story, the Stewart boys are doing their parents proud, as evidenced on dad’s face.  I don’t believe I’d ever before heard of Judge Stewart, but what a fine, honorable man.

By The Artist Formerly Known As Bakes on 2014 01 31, 2:25 am CST

Excellent article about a federal judge that should be used by all judges as a “How To Be The People’s Judge?”

By Horace Moore, Sr. on 2014 01 31, 11:45 am CST

What an awesome article!

By James P. McCollom, Jr. on 2014 01 31, 12:06 pm CST

Nice!

By DeadHead on 2014 01 31, 12:23 pm CST

Can he run for president?

By Peg Simok on 2014 01 31, 1:02 pm CST

Can we clone Judge Stewart for each Circuit?

By Still Fighting the Good Fight! on 2014 01 31, 1:08 pm CST

All that said, why is he an African American? I find the term offensive. I am an American of African and Hispanic background. I know nothing of Africa or Latin America except for the history force on me in the journey through the schooling system. Those of us born here regardless of our background are AMERICANS. You don’t find people of european background being called Brittish Americans or German American or Polish American and from India, Indian Americans. Is it that there are rights that Americans have that are not afforded African Americans. When we fight overseas it is the US Military, not the African American Military. Is it not time to do away with the moniker?

By Augustin Ayala on 2014 01 31, 1:23 pm CST

I don’t think the 5th is the nation’s most “divisive” or “controversial” by any stretch, but Judge Stewart is a prince of a guy who apparently has spent his entire life working hard and treating others fairly- just the kind of person we want as a judge.

Apparently from the story, the real feuding on that court is among the female Republican judges.

By Tom on 2014 01 31, 1:32 pm CST

Not much evidence in the article to back up the headline and lead that the 5th Circuit is the most “divisive” or “controversial” or even the most “conservative” in the country (and the implied criticism that there’s something wrong with being conservative).  Judge Stewart sounds like a great judge, though.  I’ve never seen a bench - municipal, state or federal - that didn’t have some personality conflicts and internal disputes. The headline and lead seems to blow that a bit out of proportion in regards to the 5th Circuit.  Good to know the 5th Circuit has top-notch talent and a proven leader in charge.

By Dan da man on 2014 01 31, 1:51 pm CST

Great article, but Tom is correct the 5th Cir is far from being the most divisive App. Ct.  The 9th Cir is the most devisive App. Ct. by far.  The 5th Cir interprets and follows the Constitution. The 9th Cir. re-writes and makes up the meaning of the Constitution.

By Willie on 2014 01 31, 1:53 pm CST

Iam pleased to note that Judge Stewart is a great Judge and he deserves to be Chief Judge, God bless Judge Stewart.

By Hon. Mr. Justice Anderson Ray Zikonda ( Retired H on 2014 01 31, 2:08 pm CST

For a forum that regularly overflows with argumentative comments (many well-reasoned), the responses here are astonishingly polite.  Perhaps Stewart’s integrity and thoughtful temperament are having exactly the kind of effect that the entire judicial system needs.  What power there is in truth, calmly delivered.

By Dave on 2014 01 31, 2:08 pm CST

Great story - thank you.

By Saffer on 2014 01 31, 2:19 pm CST

Terrific article.  Thanks.  Very much enjoyed reading about such a well qualified judge.

By Dcinsider on 2014 01 31, 2:25 pm CST

Is the picture of the Chief Judge in front of his school Photoshoped?

The light against the school is coming in from the left, and is clearly yellow sunlight.  No sunlight appears on the Judge, and it appears that the light on him is coming from the right and is an unnatural florescent color.

My apologies to Kathy Anderson if it is not, but the thing just looks fake.

By Photoshopped? on 2014 01 31, 2:35 pm CST

Good story, a good read. But I too wonder where the headline came from? I guess Conservative Courts are controversial, but Liberal Courts are insightful or progressive or some such? Until I read the word “Conservative” I thought it would be an article about the 9th Circuit…

By okiedokie on 2014 01 31, 2:49 pm CST

Interesting article, but the prize for the most divisive, controversial court has to go to the 9th Circuit, whose criminal decisions in which SCOTUS accepts cert are overturned more often than ANY other circuit.
More recently the almost always prosecutor-unfriendly court made an en banc decision denying a claim of a Brady violation by a federal prosecutor.
But both the LA and NY TIMES ran editorials adopting the tiny minority dissent written by colorful and controversial Alex Kozinski and joined by a member of the 9th OTHER extreme, Steven Reinhart.

By Joshua Marquis on 2014 01 31, 2:49 pm CST

Specifically with respect to the article’s disparagement of the 5th Circuit’s temperament as a whole, it appears to me that the Court’s only real crime, in the author’s eyes, is merely that the Court is more conservative than other circuits. For that, despite its challenges (which I doubt are the least bit unique among the circuits), I applaud the 5th Circuit.

By Zach on 2014 01 31, 2:52 pm CST

This is rather inspiring story for anyone confronted with adversity due to their personal circumstances. Judge Stewart’s story resonates profoundly with me, an immigrant who came to the US as a teenager and was subjected to bullying, discrimination, humiliation, etc… I eventually was able to become an attorney despite my circumstances. Although, my story may not be as compelling as Judge Stewart’s, I definitely see him as a role model.

Everyone in the legal profession should keep Judge Stewart’s illustrious story as a compass for success.

By Insipiring on 2014 01 31, 2:56 pm CST

Thank you to the blogger who wrote this long and detailed article chronicling the life and work of one of the highest servants of this nation.  I agree with almost every commenter above in hailing Judge Stewart.

Far too much of today’s judicial system is about politics—presidents are bent on choosing ideologues who will solidify their political bent, and judges too often seek the spotlight to put their views before the public.  One doesn’t feel proud of a judicial system marred by politics or inappropriate displays of character.  Stewart seems to have remained above all of this.  He is a model for everyone in the practice of law, and especially anyone who would have a valid claim they were harmed by racism and disadvantage.  If Stewart’s model (and the model set by his parents) were followed by more minorities, we would have a much better world and the racism/disadvantage barriers that exist would fall much, MUCH faster.

By Andy on 2014 01 31, 3:24 pm CST

It’s so nice to read about a judge who decides cases based on law without letting his personal feelings constantly shape his decisions.  Wow, what a concept, huh?  We’ve gotten so far off the mark in our courts that impartiality seems to be almost forgotten in lieu of personal and/or political agenda. I heartily applaud this man and wish that there were more like him on the bench.

By Tired of Partisan Judges on 2014 01 31, 3:29 pm CST

Judge Carl Stewart sounds like an amazing Judge - but he sounds like an amazing human being.  We need more of people like him not only on the bench, but in all areas of life.

By TBP on 2014 01 31, 3:59 pm CST

That story was well worth the time investment. As an attorney that is been practicing for almost 11 years, I find comparatively few down-to-earth, humble, and unpretentious people in this profession. Carl Stewart is a breath of fresh air because there are not nearly enough of his character practicing law. He needs to write a book about civility.

By Chauntel on 2014 01 31, 4:11 pm CST

Okie, #23 - That is exactly what i thought too - that it would be about the 9th Circuit until i read the word “conservative.” I guess it just shows the headline writer’s bias.

I thought this was a wonderful article about a good man who is exactly the type of person who should be a Chief Judge of a circuit court.

By Been there done that on 2014 01 31, 4:22 pm CST

Wonderful story.  It seems that the nice things in the article are nearly universally agreed upon.  That alone would make the story stand out.  Thanks for raising the spirits of all lawyers.

By TLH on 2014 01 31, 4:36 pm CST

Coming from Louisiana I am familiar with Judge Stewart, and I agree with the laudatory comments directed to him.

However you need to get a new headline writer. Since this is an ABA website, it needs to be more neutral and not make the term “conservative” a derogatory word. It is done throughout the media. You never hear the term “far left” as compared to “far right” or “right wing” but a simple knowledge of the bell curve tells you that there exist both.

By Dragutin on 2014 01 31, 5:01 pm CST

A great judge and a great man!  Either the headline writer wrote the fourth paragraph of the article, or Mark Curriden doesn’t understand his own, excellent analysis. “But in the eyes of many, those experiences make Stewart the perfect person to preside over the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—one of the most controversial, rancorous, dysfunctional, staunchly conservative and important appellate courts in the country.”  The rest of the article evidences that the words “controversial, rancorous, and disfunctional” are not appropriate descriptives of the Court.  Personalities of individual judges in the 5th Circuit are representative of judges in many circuits.  But as as been mentioned those descriptives are most apt of the 9th, not the 5th.

By WDT on 2014 01 31, 5:31 pm CST

The Headline got my attention and the story kept it til the end. Great job.

By Clement Aldridge on 2014 01 31, 5:44 pm CST

I could not agree more with virtually all of the preceding comments. A great judge. A touch of the ABA “liberal” bias which I wish would go away. 9th Circuit takes all awards for being quite the opposite of the 5th.

By blackjack on 2014 01 31, 6:34 pm CST

I agree with earlier comments:  The headline is a slam on conservatism.  But great article otherwise.

By Theresa on 2014 01 31, 7:08 pm CST

Not to take anything at all away from Chief Judge Stewart and his accomplishments and admirable temperament, but what really stands out for me is the description of how his parents (note: plural) raised him and what they taught him, such as that “we would face a lot of obstacles ... but that we should not let the obstacles dictate our conduct;” that education is the great equalizer; and that it is better to forgive, let go of old grievances, and focus on gratitude for what one does have rather than bitterness about what one does not.  So refreshing, and so very sad that such attitudes appear to be very rare in today’s African-American culture, where 70-plus percent of children are born to single mothers, being “gansta” is valued over being educated, and the liberal-Democratic establishment has taught a victimhood ideology for 50 years now, preaching that minorities cannot be successful on their own and need handouts from the gov’t (which, of course, increases dependency rather than self-reliance).  I wish CJ Stewart the very best; his mother was absolutely right to have been so proud of him.

By Just Some Bloke on 2014 01 31, 7:23 pm CST

Judge Stewart’s parent’s deserve a lot of credit. They did not even have enough clout to get the house they wanted to buy simply because of the color of their skins. Yet they raised three Black “boys” whose background,  “statistics say” would more likely than not result in them becoming convicts, “baby daddies”, drug dealers and worse, to become not only men of substance, but decent, thoughtful, caring human beings.  Boys, you have done your parents proud.  Stories like these confirm what I, as a Black woman and an attorney of 30 years,  have always believed: Where you come from does not dictate where you can go, be, or do. “Per ardua ad astra.).

By Alda A. Anderson on 2014 01 31, 7:29 pm CST

@29 I agree. While it’s great to hear a story about a judge who is bright, even tempered, polite and interested in following the law, the sad part is that these seem to be relatively rare qualities in the 5th Circuit. Unfortunately, because they are political appointees the primary attribute that a judge must have is the correct political philosophy depending on which party occupies the White House. And the appointments are for life. I think the framers blew this one.

By redwood on 2014 01 31, 7:45 pm CST

Great article.  I don’t know much about Stewart but I do know something about Higginbotham whom I consider to be a thoroughly decent guy and able jurist.  If Higginbotham says Stewart has the right qualities that’s good enough for me.

By WingCmdr on 2014 01 31, 7:55 pm CST

As an example of the reference to a “divisive” 5th Circuit, one judge hearing a peripheral matter on “Obamacare” apparently awoke that morning with the thought that he was really a Chinese emperor and ordered the US attorney to present him with a three page, single spaced explanation of President Obama’s view of the US Constitution for that judge’s review.  That judge apparently skipped the part in the Constitution about the separation of powers “stuff”.  Another judge told yet a third judge to shut up during oral argument.  And the 5th is the lead in forging a new legal fanatasy that for profit corporations have religious beliefs protected under the First Amendment.  The employees of such corporations, being real people, do not have protected religious beliefs if they run counter to those of their employers.  The story about Judge Stewart is a refreshing change of pace.

By rosslaw on 2014 01 31, 7:58 pm CST

Here we have an inspirational story about a phenomenal man from a fantastic family, a great jurist… and some of us are here bitching and kvetching over the use of “conservative” and which court is actually most divisive.  I love this profession, but sometimes it gets tiresome being among some of my fellow professionals… if even in the cyber realm.

By The Artist Formerly Known As Bakes on 2014 01 31, 9:05 pm CST

I take the headline to describe the 5th Circuit judges other than Stewart. Many opinions are poorly reasoned whether they would be considered conservative or liberal. My favorite was stating that all police officers lie as a condition of their employment in a sexual discrimination in employment case but ignoring the court’s own position in criminal contexts.  While I agree the position was inane and should be ignored, I think only a person lacking the proper judicial temperament would actually publish it in the first place. While our judges are predictable, the specifics of how they will do what we expect are always surprising.

By Melissa on 2014 01 31, 11:25 pm CST

I’ll just follow up- I didn’t necessary perceive the article as a slam on conservatism. I just thought that the 9th Circuit, and to a lesser degree the 6th Circuit, have for the last several years been embroiled in many professional and sometimes personal conflicts that spilled into the public view, and also have long lines of dueling case law that the judges just can’t settle up among themselves. You really don’t see that in the 5th. There does appear to be some intrapersonal conflict among some judges, but that’s probably always been true on every court. I think the 9th and 6th are the more likely candidates for the “most divisive and controversial” courts.

The 5th is surely the nation’s most conservative, however.

By Tom on 2014 01 31, 11:55 pm CST

A message to all black people who wish to get ahead in America, I offer the following commentary: the default assumption is that black men are angry, violent, and threatening.  Thus “quiet temperament” becomes synonymous with “articulate,” meaning its the exception not the rule.  From where I sit, the theme of this article is, “in order for black people to get ahead in America, they must be willing to subject themselves to the abuse of white people and ‘never breath a word about their loss’ (Rudyard Kipling).” Make white people feel comfortable at all cost despite their vicious abuse and they will reward you handsomely.  Let the hard smile be your permanent expression .  Smile to your face bones crack.  Shuck, then jive.  Repeat.  They must be made to feel comfortable at all cost.  The key becomes survival.  See “The Butler” for more specific instructions. You see, we prefer our black people silent, deferential, non-angry, and with “quiet temperance,”  like maids and nannies, seen not heard. This way we are never held accountable for our historical atrocious treatment of black people and other minorities.  Another article praising anesthetized black people.  All this coming from an organization like ABA who routinely votes “not qualified” on black federal judge appointees, including Judge Stewart.

By Uncommon Wisdom on 2014 02 02, 6:19 am CST

A message to all black people who wish to get ahead in America, I offer the following commentary: the default assumption is that black men are angry, violent, and threatening.  Thus “quiet temperament” becomes synonymous with “articulate,” meaning its the exception not the rule.  From where I sit, the theme of this article is, “in order for black people to get ahead in America, they must be willing to subject themselves to the abuse of white people and ‘never breath a word about their loss’ (Rudyard Kipling).” Make white people feel comfortable at all cost despite their vicious abuse and they will reward you handsomely.  Let the hard smile be your permanent expression .  Smile to your face bones crack.  Shuck, then jive.  Repeat.  They must be made to feel comfortable at all cost.  The key becomes survival.  See “The Butler” for more specific instructions. You see, we prefer our black people silent, deferential, non-angry, and with “quiet temperance,”  like maids and nannies, seen not heard. This way we are never held accountable for our historical atrocious treatment of black people and other minorities.  Another article praising anesthetized black people.  All this coming from an organization like ABA who routinely votes “not qualified” on black federal judge appointees, including Judge Stewart and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

By Uncommon Wisdom on 2014 02 02, 6:29 am CST

This was a wonderful article. I spent a summer in San Diego, California as a guest of the late great Judge Earl Gilliam while I was a freshman at Morehouse College. This article has convinced me that Judge Stewart is just as great as Judge Earl Gilliam.

By Greg griffin on 2014 02 02, 10:28 am CST

::“When the defendant in a discrimination case opined that President Obama would replace the Statue of Liberty’s torch with “a piece of fried chicken,” a district judge in the 5th Circuit refused to interpret it as a racial slur.”::

No doubt.  That judge most likely determined that the only thing racist in that incident was the racism of the person complaining about the slur!  After all, isn’t that what Republicans insist?  That the only kiind of racism that still exists in this country is reverse-racism against white people?!?

By David W. Simon on 2014 02 03, 5:18 pm CST

You should probably expect an organization populated by educated, professional people who are dedicated to justice not to side with conservatives.  Just a hint.

By Anonymous on 2014 02 03, 8:56 pm CST

50-I have no doubt that many of the ABA members are left of center. My complaint is that as a National organization, it needs to be neutral in its message-similiar to very liberal Walter Cronkite who just gave the news-not his opinion (although to be fair there were exceptions with him).

Also there is a difference between educated liberal and conservative thinking and bizarros on both side of the spectrum. I will agree with you on that point. I will listen all day to an educated liberal who can explain his or her position. However I stop when those on the other side want to demonize my ideas, not just disagree.

By Dragutin on 2014 02 03, 9:06 pm CST

I find the article to be most interesting.  The judge appears to be a fair and impartial seeker of the truth, and an untiring explorer in search of justice.  What I am disturbed about, as well as perplexed and somewhat miffed about, is that the writer seems to think that the only way to prove his point is to say that the judge veers right and is willing to adhere to tenets of what many might call “right wing conservative philosophies.”  That is a great disservice to the qualities the writer says the judge embodies.  “Fair and balanced,” is a slogan, not a judicial road map.  The judge is fair, impartial, and an untiring explorer in search of justice because—if I’m to believe the quotes attributable to him—that is what he feels a judge is suppose to do and the way a judge is supposed to behave.  I agree.

By H Cee on 2014 02 03, 9:32 pm CST

I’m soooo very pleased to know we have strong Black representation in the justice system. Judge Stewart I know you have inspired others to excel to greatness the same as you. Congratulations in your endeavors. We are better served if we had more like you in our Judicial System. Blessings & Peace

By Alfreda on 2014 02 03, 9:41 pm CST

@52 and 53 I agree as well, but I cannot get over the fact that the premise of most of the comments seem to indicate that the judicial philosophy and demeanor of this judge are rare qualities for a federal judge. I believe that is the bigger story here.

By redwood on 2014 02 03, 9:57 pm CST

“What I am disturbed about, as well as perplexed and somewhat miffed about, is that the writer seems to think that the only way to prove his point is to say that the judge veers right and is willing to adhere to tenets of what many might call ‘right wing conservative philosophies.’”

What a bizarre comment… didn’t see any suggestion as to what the judge’s own political leanings were.

By The Artist Formerly Known As Bakes on 2014 02 04, 12:19 am CST

Very interesting article and it’s quiet revealing. My experience has been , when “good conservatives” i.e. lawyers and judges say you are well liked ....what does it mean really.

By Calvin Rivers on 2014 02 04, 12:36 am CST

TO: #19 (Dave).  Exactly.  What goes around comes around. What you give is what you receive.

By JD on 2014 02 04, 2:12 am CST

@50 and 51: Interesting that, in 50’s view, an organization devoted to “justice” should not align with conservatives. But justice is EXACTLY what conservatives want. Justice is colorblind. Justice does not take into account who the parties are before the court. Justice follows the rule and the letter of the law.

To do otherwise is to do injustice, yet that is exactly what liberals want. They want the court to have its thumb on the scale, to favor minorities, to favor certain parties (often plaintiffs) and disfavor other parties (often defendants), and to allow judges to make up law in order to achieve the desired results. The perversion of “justice” that 50 seeks is something that all lawyers, not just conservatives, should condemn, for when the rule of man replaces the rule of law, it is normally the powerless, not the powerful, who have the most to lose in the long run.

By Jim on 2014 02 04, 11:25 pm CST

@58 - nonsense. Liberals have no monopoly on judicial activism. Judicial activism is usually in the eye of the beholder. In Michigan our Supreme Court is very conservative, but it has been very liberal. Historically you can look at any issue that has political ramifications and 9 times out of 10 predict the outcome depending upon which ideology holds sway in the court.

By redwood on 2014 02 04, 11:38 pm CST

@58: “to favor certain parties (often plaintiffs) and disfavor other parties (often defendants)”

In one fragment of a sentence, you’ve revealed that you’re one of the many non-attorneys who frequent this journal (which isn’t to imply that people like you are unwelcome here, but only that your opinion may not be formed on the basis of much knowledge or experience.) As any attorney who has ever litigated a case knows, the courts are a part of a system that runs on rules. Every change to that system can potentially favor or disfavor either plaintiffs or defendants. This bias has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

“But justice is EXACTLY what conservatives want. Justice is colorblind. Justice does not take into account who the parties are before the court. Justice follows the rule and the letter of the law.”

Is this why, despite decades of conservative justices complaining that it was the liberal activist judges expanding the commerce clause beyond all reason, it ended up being the conservative wing of the court that handed us the Raich vs. Gonzales decision, probably my favorite ridiculous expansion of federal power since Wickard vs. Filburn? Why is it often conservative judges who tend to uphold non-color-blind methodologies and positions when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, and due process rights? I agree that someone fired for cause shouldn’t have an advantage suing his employ because of his race. I simply don’t understand how those-whom-pass-for-conservatives these days can also agree with that position while simultaneously agreeing with the position that there’s nothing wrong with someone’s race being probable cause for a search or a detention and that it’s okay to give a government official absolute discretion to determine who is allowed to gather or protest or speak in public spaces based on their message or political position. I don’t understand how these conservatives for justice can claim to be color blind when they argue that the Constitution requires that mainstream Christians should be exempt from parts of ObamaCare because their religion forbids birth control, but at the same time are derisive of Christian Scientists, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Muslims, or other religious groups who have sought religious exemptions from laws of general applicability. I mean, when they want to give the government the power to say “Your religion is valid, so we won’t force you to follow this law, but her religion is crap, and if she wanted to wear that head scarf she should have stayed in Qatar,” I mean, isn’t that the exact opposite of justice and color-blindness?

Nice talking points, but you may need to brush up on history and the law to put some real substance behind them.

By Jarrod J on 2014 02 05, 1:41 am CST

This article was very inspirational to me as a future attorney. We should always be proud of anyone who has the moral courage to stand up and do whats right regardless as to what’s happening around them. Justice has not color, financial status or political party. The Judge who recently presided over the affluenza case in Texas should seek mentorship from Judge Stewart.

By Future Atty on 2014 02 06, 8:33 pm CST

@58
Are you for or against the death penalty??

Because Jerrod @60 just murdered your argument.

By Thomas Ritter on 2014 02 07, 9:47 am CST

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