REPORT FROM THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

 

[Posted September 22, 2010]  As I noted yesterday, I went to Richmond for the investiture of Judge Barbara M. Keenan as a judge of the Fourth Circuit.  This was the first Fourth-Circuit investiture I had attended, and I greatly enjoyed the experience.  There were plenty of tributes to Judge Keenan’s ability, intellect, and character; I was also gratified that there were more than a few lighthearted comments.  One of the speakers, Bill Dolan of Venable, LLP, offered a fine testimonial to Judge Keenan, but added that while she was at the Supreme Court of Virginia, she had occasionally ruled against his clients.  “I request leave,” he asked the en banc court, “to revise these comments should she do that again.”

 

Justice Koontz brought laughter when he recounted the formation of the Court of Appeals of Virginia in 1985; he and Judge Keenan were both inaugural members.  She was the only female jurist on the court, and in his words, he and some of the other members “weren’t sure how we should act around her.”  She broke the ice by referring to her fellow judges as “boys.”  Then-Judge Koontz responded by referring to Judge Keenan as a “girl.”  After a few chuckles and a pregnant pause, he added, “I did not make that mistake a second time.”

 

The most memorable moment of the ceremony for me came after she was sworn in and enrobed, and Chief Judge Traxler called her to join her new colleagues on the bench.  As she walked to her chair, first the chief judge and then all of the judges rose and applauded her.  While the still-seated audience joined in the applause, this simple act of respect, admiration, and welcome from the judges was enormously moving for me (and it was probably far more so for Judge Keenan).  I don’t know whether this is a Fourth-Circuit tradition, but if it is, I’ll add my own applause to the court for the graciousness of this practice.
 
It remains to be seen whether at some point I will slip up and call the newest member of the court “Justice Keenan,” as I’ve done for so long.