Judge Diane Wood on Supreme Court Vacancy, Immigration Debate

We've all heard a great deal about the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia, and the politically charged vacancy it's created on the Supreme Court.

But closer to home, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, has two vacancies on its bench. One of the seats has been vacant for more than six years.

Political polarization is widely blamed for long judicial vacancies. And politics has also stymied hopes for immigration reform. Later this week, the Seventh Circuit Bar Association is holding a symposium called "E Pluribus Unum: the Immigration Conundrum." Speakers are coming together from across the country and across the aisle to tackle an issue that's often discussed more in terms of opinion than fact.

Joining us to talk about that symposium and more is Diane Wood, Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Below, some highlights from our conversation.

On a possible tie in the eight-Justice Supreme Court

“Now it may be a four-to-four vote, which is as if the court never took the case,” Wood said. “It just leaves the lower court’s decision alone, and when you figure the court only takes 75 cases a year out of the entire United States, that’s a big loss.”

On her experience with the vetting process for the Supreme Court

“It’s very thorough – that’s the nicest word I could use about it,” Wood said. “It requires remembering, for example, every speech you’ve ever given, every paper you’ve ever written … Most of us have nothing to hide, but it takes a lot of work to pull all that material together. Most people would probably not say every word they’ve ever spoken in their life was a wise one, so you’re sometimes looking at something you said 20 years ago and thinking, did I really mean that?

“It’s a huge honor, of course, to be in a small enough group that the president wants to have a personal conversation, so I was very grateful.”

On working with colleagues she doesn’t always agree with politically

“People like to say ‘left-leaning’ and I’m not sure what that means. I agree with [more conservative colleagues] a lot of the time,” Wood said. “I just figure, if you give people a reason, and you don’t make it personal, they might listen to you. I’m very frequently fortunate enough to have my other colleagues listen.”

Related event

The Seventh Circuit Bar Association foundation is hosting a symposium on immigration which will bring together an array of voices to discuss the policy, politics, and wide-ranging implications of the U.S. immigration system. The symposium will be held Thursday, March 3 and Friday, March 4 at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in the Thorne Auditorium. More information about the symposium can be found in foundation's agenda booklet.


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