Macy ’22 gains appreciation for strength of U.S. judicial system through work with Bolch Institute
The 3L from Alaska hopes to contribute to more equitable systems in his future career as a litigator.
John Macy ’22 has his sights on a career as a litigator, but he has spent the last two years learning the system from the other side through his work with the Bolch Judicial Institute. As a research assistant, he has helped compile information, draft portions of articles, and other tasks that have helped him gain greater insights into the workings of not only the U.S. judicial system, but also judicial systems in other countries.
Macy’s work has built on his experiences as a judicial intern for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and as a research assistant for Professor Ernest Young. Last summer, he worked as a summer associate for Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick in Washington, D.C. After he graduates, he plans to clerk for Judge Justin Walker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and eventually move back to Alaska, where he was born and raised, to work in state or federal government.
At Duke Law, Macy has also worked as an online editor for the Duke Law Journal and as an executive editor for the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum. In his free time, he likes to hike mountains, play pick-up basketball, and read books on theology and philosophy (which he majored in at the University of Alaska – Anchorage).
Read our Q&A to learn more about his work with the Bolch Institute and how it has helped him in his legal education:
What kind of research have you been involved in with the institute, or what kind of work have you been doing?
As a research assistant at the institute, I have had the pleasure to work on several articles published in Judicature magazine. My duties have ranged from answering research questions to drafting portions of the articles. I have been listed as a co-author on two pieces: “The Collapse of Judicial Independence in Poland: A Cautionary Tale (2020)” and “2020 Election Litigation: The Courts Held (2021).” Both articles provided me with rich opportunities to examine the critical role of the judiciary in upholding the rule of law in a democratic society.
How has your work deepened your understanding of or changed your views on the judiciary?
My research for the institute has inspired a great confidence in the judicial institutions of the United States (both state and federal). My research regarding the 2020 election lawsuits was particularly inspiring. In those cases, judges from all sorts of backgrounds resisted political pressure and upheld the law. I read cases from federal judges appointed by presidents, and cases from state judges appointed through partisan elections. When tenuous arguments were presented, the backgrounds of the judges made little to no difference.
However, my research into the ongoing political crisis in Poland instilled in me the understanding that judicial institutions can be fragile. The judiciary is particularly susceptible to the hostility of the other branches, and its independence relies on the respect of political actors and the respect of the public. More than ever, I believe that citizens (and lawyers in particular) have a duty to uphold the value of judicial independence in our political discourse.
But upholding that value does not mean our judiciary should not be critically examined. Working for the institute has taught me that there is always room for robust conversations about how our judicial institutions can improve. Articles in Judicature often focus on how the judiciary can solve old problems and confront new ones. I have an immense respect for the judges, scholars, and advocates who are focused on making our institutions better.
How has your work with the institute enhanced your Law School experience?
First and foremost, my work at the institute allowed me to learn a great deal about our judiciaries and how they work. Much of this learning was extremely practical. My work at the institute allowed me to consider the behind-the-scenes “practice” of judging, and not just the theoretical underpinnings of decision-making. This meshed well with the more theoretical discussions that commonly occur in the classroom.
Furthermore, the institute has allowed me to learn from the perspectives of judges themselves. Two of my research projects at the institute allowed me to work for prominent former members of the judiciary. And many articles I have read in Judicature have been authored (or co-authored) by current or former judges. Listening to these perspectives has enriched my view of the law and lawyering significantly.
How have your experiences prepared you for your career, or positioned you for success in your career, after you graduate?
Following a clerkship with a federal judge next year, I aspire to begin a career as a litigator. My experiences at the institute have required me to focus a great deal on how courts work and how judges think. I believe that these experiences will certainly make me a more effective advocate.
My research at the institute has also caused me to think deeply about the role that lawyers can play in shaping legal institutions and making our systems for resolving disputes more fair. As a lawyer, I hope to advocate not only on behalf of clients, but also on behalf of the courts, whether it be through scholarship or political advocacy.
Maria Bajgain is a communications specialist at Duke Law School. Reach her at email@example.com.