Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
Comments Upon the Oath of Office
Jan. 7, 2005

Chief Justice Shepard, Governor Taft, Speaker Husted, Lieutenant Governor Johnson, Secretary Blackwell, Treasurer Bradley, Auditor Montgomery, Attorney General Petro, Justice Sweeney, clergy, participants, judges, elected officials, invited guests. May it please the court.

Thank you for sharing this day with Mary and me. Chief Justice Shepard, I know your schedule was disrupted to be here. Mary and I deeply appreciate your participation. Chief Justice Shepard's wife Amy, an Ohio native, is here.

You are all constant reminders of the importance of the work conducted in this magnificent structure.

Governor, you and legislators from both sides of the aisle have demonstrated your trust in the courts through your funding of the judicial branch. You also demonstrate your regard for the courts with a legislative agenda that reflects the needs of our courts, when you consult with the judiciary on legislative proposals of mutual interest and in your recognition of the judiciary as an independent branch of government. Not every state is so fortunate to enjoy the relationship among the three branches of government we have sustained in Ohio.

Each year, my gratitude increases for my colleagues, who demonstrate the importance of collegiality, and a profound respect for the rule of law.

Thank you to Steve Hollon and the outstanding personnel of the Supreme Court. There is no more dedicated, professional staff of any court in the country.

Thank you to my family, some of whom wondered about me when this journey began in 1985. I would not be here without the unconditional support of my best friend, Mary. In fact, my closest friends assured me that most of my early supporters voted vicariously for Mary.

And, without the support of thousands of Ohio citizens I would not have this privilege. Thank you.

My deepest and broadest gratitude is for the citizens of Ohio who, whether they win or lose a case, trust the courts to provide a fair resolution of their disputes.

Citizens have also come to expect innovative programs such as dispute resolution and specialized dockets that seek to slow the revolving door of justice.

Seeing some longtime friends here reminds me of a Lincoln story.

An old acquaintance of President Lincoln visited him in Washington. Although the visitor was wholly inexperienced in public affairs or business, he asked to be appointed Superintendent of the Mint.

“Good gracious! Why didn't he ask to be the Secretary of the Treasury and have done with it?” the President said.

Afterward, he added: “Well, now, I never thought he had anything more than average ability when we were young men together. But, then, I suppose he thought the same thing about me, and–here I am!”

In the past I have used this occasion to announce new initiatives and identify the peaks and valleys in the Ohio judicial system.

I assure you that we will continue our efforts to provide access to all who require the assistance of a court to resolve a dispute or manage their affairs, develop appropriate specialized dockets, and assist courts in applying technology to improve the administration of burgeoning caseloads. I also will continue to work to enhance the confidence of our citizens that the process for qualifying and selecting judges in Ohio is consistent with our aspirations to maintain independent, impartial and fair courts.

But on this occasion I want to share with you a few overarching thoughts that I would describe as expectations of justice.

Your participation today is an act of a public covenant; a covenant initiated by the electorate and made solemn today as you witnessed this oath. Through your participation, we renew the civic contract that binds us as participants in a constitutional democracy.

This civic contract, drafted in our constitutions has served us well….providing safe harbor during civil strife and world wars. It has charted our journey to the Ohio territory and the great westward expansion. The United States Constitution has survived impeachments, and steadied us during disputed elections.

The Constitution is the foundation for our right to worship as we wish, to petition the government and for the protection of due process. The Constitution is a testament to our sense of fairness that commits all institutions to the search for justice.

These are not worn out ideals. For 215 years, the rule of law has sustained our civilized society. …separating us from the anarchist and the tyrant.

Justice Anthony Kennedy told the American Bar Association that civility defines our common cause in advancing the rule of law. He added, “We are civil to each other because we respect one another's human aspirations and equal standing in a democratic society.”

It is in the law that a society organizes its shared experiences, and forms its common values. The law collects our morals and ideals that forge revolutions and leads men and women into battle. The civic diaries reflected in our constitutions, statutes, and particularly in court dockets, expose the struggles over women's suffrage and civil rights. Our light shines brightly in the world.

The fruits of democracy are now beginning to blossom in former Soviet republics. And there are lessons for us in their experience. I invited Helen Kryshtalowych to share her thoughts because she was with us as we began our relationship with Ukrainian leaders in 1992, and she was a witness to the events in Kiev last month that changed a nation and spoke to the world.

Recent events in Ukraine are an inspiration to us all.

“Two weeks ago, Ukrainians felt the earth move beneath their feet. By invalidating the disputed presidential run-off election and scheduling a new vote for December 26th, Ukraine's Supreme Court handed the opposition candidacy of Victor Yushchenko a major victory and displayed the kind of independence that many demonstrating on the streets of Kiev doubted the judiciary possessed.”

Those words, taken from the Action Ukraine Report reiterating a Wall Street Journal story, describe a profound historic event. As you heard from Helen, the spirit of democracy moved hundreds of thousands of peaceful Ukrainians last month just as it inspired a few hundred American patriots over 200 years ago.

Notice that the Wall Street Journal story stated that many demonstrators doubted that their Supreme Court would act contrary to the wishes of the person who appointed them, President Kuchma.

When I read that story I was reminded of the judge in Ukraine who asked me to describe the size of the police force we employ to enforce our judgments. That question came from a judge in a country in which no one expected judges to be impartial or act independently of the wishes of the president or a member of the Rada, their parliament.

I answered, that courts in America do not employ police forces to enforce their judgments. The expectation of our citizens is that, while not perfect, the American justice system resolves disputes by a process that is guided by fundamental principles of fairness and impartiality. So long as disputing parties believe that an adverse decision of a court was rendered pursuant to the rules, that trust in the process produces compliance.

Troubles on the world stage bring into sharp focus the gift handed us by our founding fathers. Upon a clean slate, they etched indelible beliefs in freedom, liberty and justice for all.

As Alexis de Tocqueville observed…” Like no people before them, Americans turned to secular law to ground their political community and to establish their own identity.”

The courts serve as the guardian of this secular identity, remaining independent of popular opinion, while having the sole authority to determine the constitutionality of legislation. It is a resilient and fragile authority that has weathered many a storm.

Alexander Hamilton called the courts “the most powerful, most universal and most attractive source of popular obedience and attachment,” concluding that the courts are the “great cement of society.”

This cement holds so long as the judiciary derives its authority from beyond the pages of our constitutions. It has roots in the people who authored it and the citizens who approved it and live under its rule. Their expectations and beliefs are the basis for the rule of law, and that is why the authority of the judiciary is to be exercised with great caution and wisdom.

In a democracy there is a more fundamental factor that is not so clearly defined in law, one that draws a much broader circle in defining the scope of judicial power. That is the question of judicial authority.

If judges are bestowed with power upon election or appointment to the bench, then the scope of judicial authority is what we earn from citizens.

The authority of the judicial branch is rooted in the expectations of citizens that we will use our powers with wisdom, fairness and restraint. In doing, so we protect the viability of the system by respecting the confidence extended by the citizens.

These expectations require your participation, even more, your vigilance.

We are conducting the events of this day in a building that was constructed to reflect the greatness of the people of Ohio. This building is a symbol.

It is a magnificent structure symbolizing truth and justice, faith and integrity, hopes and dreams.

But humans have built magnificent structures in the past. The Great Wall of China stretches like a serpent over 3000 miles, its height exceeding four stories and wide enough for an emperor's eight-horse chariot to turn—the only manmade structure visible from outer-space.

Constructed to separate the Ming civilization from barbarian hordes, it was never breached. No enemy dug under it; no enemy scaled it; no enemy went around it.

Nevertheless the wall failed when one person, a Ming general and border guard allowed the Manchurian army to pass through for his own personal reasons, thereby breaching his duty to the citizens he was responsible to protect, and bringing an end to the Ming dynasty.

Ancient history has meaning for us today.

Rousseau taught us that we are parties to a social contract that rests upon an informed and involved citizenry. Without that participation the Constitution is mere parchment. Symbolically the Constitution has the strength of the Chinese Wall but it can be breached by the acts of one or a few.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, authors of the two most important American secular documents said in harmony, “Unless we have a sufficient supply of virtuous citizens, this noble experiment of democracy will not work.” And, “We not only need smart people; we need virtuous people.” That sentiment has not been stated more eloquently than in a speech by Senator Adlai Stevenson in 1959 when he observed, “No democratic system can survive without at least a large and an active leaven of citizens in whom dedication and selflessness are not confined to private life but are the fundamental principles of their activity in the public sphere.”

My plea to you is this—that in an age of transactional values, of convenient morals, you raise your expectations of human conduct. Indeed, that you demand virtuous conduct of those who administer our democratic institutions. May we as Americans never be surprised, as were the Ukrainians, that a court has acted impartially and independently.

It is the responsibility of all citizens, to invigorate the expectations of the judiciary …for if the courts are the guardians of the constitution, it is the responsibility of citizens to articulate those expectations and to zealously protect them.

Let us leave here with renewed spirit and hope for the American ideal of justice for all.

Let us recommit, let us rededicate ourselves to the expectation that justice is achieved by the virtuous acts of judges bound to the principles of impartiality and fairness.

I am honored to serve as your Chief Justice.