What will be my legacy? How will I be remembered as a judge – not to mention as a husband, a father, a man?
I know some will say I was a good judge. Others will not be so kind. Because I have decided an important matter against them, I am stupid, arrogant and much, much worse. I know this, because I have seen their comments about my decisions and me personally.
At this time in my career, just weeks before I will retire, that I would think of my legacy to my profession is certainly to be expected. What will they say at my funeral – hopefully after a long, happy and healthy retirement? What might be my epitaph?
An epitaph is a short inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument about the person buried at that site. I don’t intend to have an epitaph on my gravestone, but I occasionally wonder what one might say.
Perhaps it would be a line from a Court of Appeals decision reviewing one of my rulings. The one I have in mind was actually written by a friend of mine, who was a year behind me in law school. My decision was affirmed, but the ruling was hardly a ringing endorsement of my legal reasoning. Boiled down to its essentials, as an epitaph, it would say:
Judge McCarthy: Not clearly erroneous!
Actually, if I could choose my epitaph, I would steal one from another, much more prestigious judge. Thurgood Marshall was the first African American member of the United States Supreme Court. Before his appointment to the highest bench in our country, he was a leading attorney in the civil rights movement. Among other cases, he was the lead attorney on the Little Rock (Arkansas) school desegregation case with Wiley Branton, the father of one of my closest friends, Richard Branton. As an aside, I had the privilege of meeting and dining with my friend Richard and Justice Marshall’s widow, Cecelia Marshall (a giant in the Civil Rights Movement in her own right) in 2007.
Justice Marshall commented that, if he could choose his epitaph, it would be:
He did the best he could with what he had.
None of us are perfect. None of us can be right 100% of the time. But if we use all the information that is reasonably at our disposal, use our God-giving talents and insights (as well as a little inspiration from Him), act in good faith and always do our best, it has to be good enough.
He did the best with what he had: That would be a very nice remembrance for anyone.
Next Week: Politics and Judges