At a Sunday ceremony at the Supreme Court, Judge D. Brock Hornby of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine was presented with the Devitt Award, the highest honor a federal judge can receive. Justice Anthony Kennedy hosted the event, praising Hornby for his wisdom and strong advocacy for the judiciary.
Hornby (pictured at right) has been a forceful spokesman for Article III judges on issues ranging from compensation to the need for judges to engage the public and the news media. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. appointed him in 2007 to chair an ad hoc committee to shepherd judicial pay increases through Congress. As James Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said Sunday, "We have not completed the task" of winning salary increases, but no one faults Hornby for congressional inaction on that front.
The Devitt award is given by the American Judicature Society to honor Article III judges whose "service to justice" is exemplary. Justice Kennedy chairs the committee that picks the winner. In a statement before the ceremony, Kennedy said Hornby is "a model for all judges" because of his work and scholarship and "a splendid judicial demeanor that demonstrates devotion to the law and confirms his dignity and decency." The Canadian-born Hornby was appointed to the district court by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
Hornby won praise from several federal judges at the ceremony, which was attended by dozens of top appellate and district court judges from around the country.
In his own remarks, Hornby focused on the "enormous" satisfactions of serving as a federal trial judge. "We deal directly with citizens on their best days and their very worst days," all the while "trying to make the rule of law work." In that role, "we call the balls and strikes," he said, adding that "we can be wrong ... but we must never be unfair." Hornby, who has written with concern about the shrinking number of jury trials, read from notes he has received from jurors who valued their jury experiences.
Among his duties as chair of the Judicial Conference's Judicial Branch Committee, Hornby has often worked with the news media. At a University of Arizona conference last year, he lamented the decline of newspapers, which he said has weakened the media's watchdog function by diminishing coverage of courts. "Our courtrooms are empty," Hornby said. "We need the presence of someone like a journalist." At the ceremony Sunday, Hornby repeated that concern, stating that many federal courtrooms go uncovered by local journalists, which diminishes public understanding of the importance of courts. "We must find new ways" to work with new media, Hornby said.
Hornby has supported the long-running "Judges and Journalists" program that has brought together federal judges and reporters from around the country to discuss ways of improving public understanding of the judiciary and alleviating historic tensions between the courts and the media.
"Judge Hornby 'gets it' when it comes to the role of a free press in reporting on the courts," said Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, which has co-sponsored the program, in a statement before the ceremony. "He gets that journalists ought not to be viewed in context of 'us and them' or as critics or advocates, but as the means and mechanism by which the public best understands its court system, which requires open access and a free flow of information from the courts."