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Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit proposed that giving greater weight to state constitutions and court rulings would lead to a better balance of power between state and federal courts during a February lecture at the University of Houston Law Center.
The judge’s talk, based on his book, “51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law,” was the year’s first Justice Ruby Kless Sondock Jurist-in-Residence Lectureship in Legal Ethics.
Sutton maintained that most discussions of constitutional guarantees center on U.S. Supreme Court decisions, failing to mention that many of the protections originated in state constitutions and how state court rulings greatly influenced the high court’s landmark rulings.
“The U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts in general are identifying more areas that they have authority over in American law and American politics,” Sutton said. “The constant over
time, is the U.S. Supreme Court exercising more authority over American government. You have noticed this phenomenon with all confirmation processes at the federal level in the past few years.
“There was a presidential election in 2016 that turned a sufficient number of Americans thinking a vote for president of the United States should be treated as a proxy to fill one seat on a nine-member court. Think of how far we’ve come from 1776.”
Sutton said that American citizens viewing the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts as political institutions would damage their authority and credibility to check other political branches of government.
He mentioned that a potential solution would be to provide more authority to lower courts.
“It’s a dangerous trajectory we’re on, but state courts and state constitutions can come into the mix,” Sutton said. “When you have a new social problem like data privacy or opioids, it’s a great idea to use the states as laboratories to try to fix this problem with their insights.
“It is way better to experiment in 50 different places with smaller populations than to have one experiment for the whole country at once before you know whether it’s a good idea or whether it will work.”
University of Houston Law Center Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman was appointed in February as an attorney advisor for the Mexican Consulate in Houston where he will serve as a consultant on immigration matters.
“I am happy to have been selected for this honor by the consul general and look forward to supporting the Mexican Consulate,” said Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the Law Center.
His five-year appointment to the position was marked by a ceremony at the Mexican Consulate where Hoffman received a certificate and met with Consul General Alicia G. Kerber Palma.
Hoffman will provide general advice on immigration matters, serve as a consultant on cases, and work with the consulate to educate the community on issues relating to immigrants.
Briefcase 2020
Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Feb. 7, 2020
Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, Feb. 14, 2020

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