William and Mary Law School

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Canadian Chief Justice Participate in Law School Panel

Members of the U.S. and Canadian justice systems have much in common and can benefit from engaging in an exchange of ideas, said College of William & Mary Chancellor and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor during a Law School panel April 19.

O'Connor was a part of a delegation of judges and lawyers from the American College of Trial Lawyers' Canada-U.S. Legal Exchange that visited the William & Mary Law School to hold a working session and answer students' questions as a panel.

"It is such a treat to get together with our judicial counterparts from our neighbor Canada," said O'Connor. "Canada has a Bill of Rights that is very similar to our own, and so we look with great interest to what Canada has done."

The Rt. Hon. Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin, echoed O'Connor's sentiments in her opening remarks.

"We value this opportunity to exchange ideas with our colleagues from the south," she said. Despite differences in things like jurisdiction and how cases are reviewed, "the basic principles are common to us all," McLachlin added.

In addition to McLachlin and O'Connor, panel members included the Hon. Charles R. Breyer, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California; Hon. Robert H. Henry, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; Hon. Marie Deschamps, Judge, Supreme Court of Canada; and Hon. Marshall E. Rothstein, Judge, Supreme Court of Canada.

After brief opening remarks from O'Connor and McLachlin, Taylor Reveley, dean of the Law School, moderated a question-and-answer session with students and panel members. Students asked a variety of questions, ranging from how Canadian law was influenced by both English and French systems to how political the selection process for Canadian judges is to how a gender balance in the Canadian Supreme Court has influenced discussions.

"It's important to get as many perspectives as possible," said McLaughlin, adding that she often jokes that since more women have become part of the Canadian Supreme Court, "we have better art on the walls, a treadmill, and a piano."

In addition to the question-and-answer session, the delegation was welcomed at a dinner in the College's historic Wren Building on April 18. They also toured the Law School's McGlothlin Courtroom and held a working session at the Law School titled "Reliance Upon Use of the Law of Other Nations in Resolution of Legal Issues."

The delegation spent the week discussing aboriginal issues, the conduct of civil litigation in the age of technology, and independence of the judiciary and legal profession.