There aren’t too many unbridled happy occasions in a federal courtroom. And this one has never happened in this particular courthouse.
But despite the formal atmosphere and dignified trappings – a brief solemn ceremony featuring four federal judges in black robes holding sway in a wood-paneled courtroom packed with well-wishers in suits and dresses – the elevation of Augusta’s U.S. District Judge Randal Hall to chief judge of the Southern District of Georgia Thursday was a festive occasion from beginning to end.
And it was an end that included a reception fit for a wedding.
And why not? Such an occasion is more than a bureaucratic nicety. It’s a statement that the peaceful transfer of power within the judiciary is no less significant than that of the Executive Branch every four years.
Fact is, the co-equal Judicial Branch has as much to say about our safety, security and peace of mind as the other two branches of government.
People come to a courthouse seeking justice – and they count on the equal protection of the laws, meaning no one is above another before the court. It’s what enforces the fundamental, founding principle of this country: that we are a nation of laws, not men, and that sovereign individuals are not subject to the whim and caprice of prince or potentate.
This newspaper never shrinks from taking note of those times when the courts fail to carry out that sacred duty. So it gives us great pleasure to observe how truly blessed we are in the Southern District of Georgia to be watched over by such fine federal jurists as Judge Hall, Judge Dudley Bowen Jr., Judge William T. Moore Jr. and outgoing Chief Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
Wood remains on the bench, but has passed the mantle of chief judge over to Hall for the next seven years.
The job – added to Hall’s normal caseload, and for no more pay – requires him to handle matters of personnel and finance and to administer local court rules in the district’s 43 counties. In addition, Hall will be liaison to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Remarkably, Thursday was the first passing of the gavel at Augusta’s century-old courthouse, making the day all the more historic.
Augusta should be especially gratified that it was Judge Hall who made that history. An Augusta native and graduate of Augusta College and the University of Georgia School of Law – as well as a former state senator – Hall is as highly respected and admired a federal judge as his estimable colleagues. And that’s saying something.
In remarks to assembled lawyers, clerks, friends and family, Hall exhibited a deep sense of humility – a key ingredient for any judge – and a heavy responsibility and mindful eye toward history: The Southern District was one of the original 13 courts established by the Judiciary Act of 1789.
How’d you like to be following that act?
He also noted today’s often political, sometimes derogatory, whirlwind surrounding the courts, and suggested part of his job is to restore civility and faith in the judiciary.
A happy occasion indeed.
We wish him Godspeed.