With significant contributions to jurisprudence and the administration of justice, the varied career of Judge Anthony Scirica of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is taking an academic turn with his decision to take senior status.
Come July, Scirica will take on a larger role at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school and Stephanie Middleton, deputy director of the American Law Institute, said she hopes he’ll spend more time on the ALI’s governing council.
It’s rare to find the perspectives of a legislator, state court judge, federal judge, prosecutor and professor in one person, Middleton said.
One of the most impressive things about Scirica, said former U.S. Solicitor General Gregory Garre, who clerked for the judge in the early 1990s, is that he accomplished great things by being placid and collegial with both colleagues and advocates.
"Different people get to the bench in different ways," said Alfred Putnam, of Drinker Biddle & Reath. Scirica did it by being amicable and smart.
Likewise, Scirica, who has served as chief judge of the Third Circuit, rose to chair the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
"That’s the ultimate Good Housekeeping seal of approval," said U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, since the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court makes the appointment. Scirica also served as chair of the rules committee, which Dalzell called a "very consequential post."
In fact, he said, it would be hard to think of another person who has contributed more to the interest of justice.
Scirica is a "highly accomplished judge in the Article III system," Dalzell said, noting that the judges of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who are subject to review by Scirica and the Third Circuit, have high regard for him.
"He doesn’t rush headlong into things," Dalzell said, adding that Scirica takes a reflective approach.
Lawyers who tried cases in Scirica’s court when he was a district judge and argued in front of panels of which he was a part in the Third Circuit have appreciated his tone, according to Putnam, who said that Scirica never tried to embarrass lawyers or ask "gotcha" questions. "His questions always came from intellectual rigor," Putnam said.
When Scirica gave a statement to the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2011 when it was weighing the issue of cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court, Scirica said, "At oral argument, appellate judges try to probe the strength and weakness of the arguments and, just as important, the reach and consequences of a decision for future cases. We explore the boundaries of a proposed legal rule. Sometimes the questions are tough and encompass provocative hypotheticals, all to test the worth of the arguments."
Scirica navigated the relationship between Congress and the judiciary well, said Middleton, who also noted his work on sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania and divorce laws when he was a state legislator.
"There is a common bond between the members of the Supreme Court and the members of Congress — each serves as a trustee of the long-term interests of an essential institution," Scirica said in his testimony. "That the court has proceeded cautiously in evaluating televising oral argument should give pause when seeking to impose a decision on a coordinate branch of government. A congressional mandate that the Supreme Court televise its proceedings likely raises a significant constitutional issue."
Asked about his approach to the law, Middleton said that it couldn’t be characterized as either conservative or liberal, but, rather, "down the middle, but very analytical." The reasoning in his opinions is compelling, she said, and "he reads widely and brings all of that to his opinions."
Garre called Scirica a "model judge in every respect," but said that the most valuable thing he learned from his clerkship was "the importance of balance in one’s life." Family is central to Scirica, he said, as well as his commitment to the law.
In 2010, Scirica was honored with the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award. The panel that gave Scirica the Devitt award noted his "critical role" in designing Pennsylvania’s sentencing statutes, his "exemplary opinions and prolific public-service activities," and his contribution as chair of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference, according to a release that accompanied the award.
"Anyone who’s a Phillies fan has seen lots of ups and downs," said Dalzell of Scirica, "and he’s a very loyal Phillies fan."
Saranac Hale Spencer can be contacted at 215-557-2449 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SSpencerTLI. •