ANNAPOLIS, MD – Friday, Jan. 6 Congressman Steny H. Hoyer [D – MD District 5] delivered the keynote address at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon. My favorite poet, Robert Frost, once remarked: ‘A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.’ He recognized, as many have throughout the history of jurisprudence, that the greatest attribute of even the best organized, most transparent, and fairest systems of justice is also its most dangerous imperfection.
They depend on us – on the actions and arguments of ordinary men and women – and are thus subject to human errors and flaws.
It is for that reason that appellate courts came about. To review. To scrutinize. To provide correction when needed. To answer ambiguities in the laws that the people’s representatives have set down in statute.
Here in Maryland, our Court of Appeals – the highest court in our state – has been performing that function since the dawn of our independence in 1776.
As in several other states, however, in the twentieth century the Court of Appeals found its workload overwhelming, so Maryland lawmakers created the Court of Special Appeals to meet the rising demand.
Quickly, the merit of its establishment was proven as it expanded from hearing only criminal appeals to hearing civil cases as well. And the bench grew from its original five to its current fifteen members. I had the privilege of being elected to the state Senate the same year that the General Assembly created the Court of Special Appeals. As a young lawyer at the time, I took a great interest in the establishment of the Court and its formation.
In my first years of service in the state Senate, we appropriated funding for the Court and confirmed its first judges, including the inaugural Chief Judge Robert Murphy.
The Court has gained a reputation for efficiency and expediency – all while taking great care with cases. The statistics bear this out. During the 2015 session, the Court disposed of 2,117 appeals. That same year, the Court of Appeals fully reversed only a single case and remanded fewer than forty. Today, we celebrate the immense success of the Court. But we gather not only at a moment of celebration but one of trepidation for the future of our republic of laws.
With the dark cloud of division casting a shadow over our politics, and amid a lessening of faith in our institutions of government, Americans are looking to the judiciary – both state and federal – to cast a beacon of fairness and impartiality. We must never allow our system of justice to be compromised by doubt. That is why the mission of our appellate courts are more important than ever before. The extra layers of scrutiny they provide ensure a foundation of trust in our laws and in their execution.
When a mistake has been made, it is our appellate courts that restore trust and relief. When a difficult decision has been properly reached, it is our appellate courts that provide closure and enable families and communities to move forward.
Today, our courts in Maryland – and in other states too – have become the epicenter of a crucial debate over fairness and bias in the exercise of law enforcement in our communities.
That debate is a healthy and necessary one, and it is because of the strength of this court and our other Maryland courts that I have great confidence in our ability as a state and as a nation to move forward together in justice and greater understanding in the months and years ahead.
When my colleagues in the state Senate worked to create the Court of Special Appeals, they could not have foreseen the immense role it would come to play fifty years later.
But it is a testament to their wise forethought that they acted to establish this Court, knowing that it would serve the cause of justice in their day and in the decades to come.
I want to congratulate Chief Judge Krauser on leading the Court at this milestone moment and seeing it into its second half-century. In Deuteronomy, Chapter Sixteen, one can read the ancient commandment: ‘justice, justice you shall pursue.’ That has been the principle guiding Judge Krauser and all the court’s judges, past and present. Surely, that will be the case for those serving on its bench in the future as well.
So I thank everyone who has worked to make this Court a success – not only the judges but the clerks, security officers, official recorders, and other individuals who have worked tirelessly to ensure that justice is served. ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue’
The responsibility you have been given as judges of courts is unlike any American has. In you has been placed the power to protect, and preserve, and expand a system that makes us exceptional, and makes America great.
God bless this honorable Court and all of you who are stewards of its majesty and responsibility. Thank you.