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Revisiting Judge Kopf blogging the Supreme Court should “STFU”


I’ll confess. I din’t know what “STFU” meant when I first read on CNN that Nebraska Federal Judge Richard Kopf told the U.S. Supreme Court to do so. I had a good feeling what the “F” stood for so I tweeted the story ASAP.

As way of background, Judge Kopf (@JudgeKopf), who has a strong interest in the role of federal trial judges as been blogging at Hercules and the Umpire for about a year and half. It’s not the first time Judge Kopf has blogged his mind and created a little controversy.

On this occasion Judge Kopf questioned why the Court even took the Hobby Lobby case. If they didn’t, says Kopf, the political branches of the government would have worked it out or who would have cared if there was a split in circuits on a contraception mandate.

Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent–this term and several past terms have proven that the Court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.

Scott Greenfield aptly described it as heads exploding across the blogosphere in response to Judge Kopf. Guys like me tweeted the ‘stfu’ story thinking it “buzz worthy” for a Judge to use the phrase.

But with Judge Kopf saying he is using the phrase tongue in cheek, and at least being candid in his views, should we be piling on?

It’s tough to be politically correct and be a good blogger, per Greenfield.

Finding the perfect level of thoughtfulness and accessibility, especially on an internet where anyone and everyone can read, is impossible if your purpose is to say anything meaningful. Sure, it’s easy if you’re only giving hugs and smiles, or only playing to one minute slice of the world who comes to you to confirm their bias. But Judge Kopf isn’t looking to pick up marketing clients, or become a stand out in the Academy by staking a claim in some political turf that will get him invited to symposiums. He’s a judge. The president appointed him. The senate confirmed him. Nobody confirmed you. Or me.

I am with Greenfield that Judge Kopf may have done the judiciary and the legal system some good.

…Judge Kopf has single-handedly done more to restore faith in the humanity of the judiciary than any other judge in the nation. I’ve regularly disagreed with him, but at the same time, he’s given me more insight than anyone else in more than 30 years.

To many non-lawyers, especially those who harbor strong antagonism toward judges who they see as one-dimensional demons wantonly destroying lives, Judge Kopf is the first living, breathing judge who offers proof of humanity on the bench.

A great many people have lost faith, lost hope, that our fundamentally flawed system can be salvaged. Judge Kopf, for all he may do “wrong,” has given them hope that there are some real, thinking, caring human beings in robes who maybe, just maybe, can be persuaded to care a little more about what the law does to real people and little less in decorum.

Legal blogs are notorious for lack of open commentary and their edited “content marketing” trying to generate search and web traffic.

Judges have been even more reserved on the net. Admittedly they cannot create the impression of impartiality or hold the judicial system up to disrespect, but I suspect their primary motive is to keep “below the radar” so as to retain a job for life.

Blogging is the perfect vehicle for lawyers, and even judges, to break down the barriers that exist between the average American and the legal system. Rather than hate lawyers and distrust the courts, we may get a few more people to believe in a system that lies at the heart of our democracy.

To do so it’s going to take open, frank, and engaging blogging. At times, we’ll need to say what we think, mix it up, and express what average folks are feeling and thinking.

We’ll ruffle a few feathers. People can and should respond on the open net. Debate’s good.

Rather than be shocked or point at Judge Kopf as an example of blogging gone crazy, let’s give guys like Kopf a pat on the back as a role model for speaking their mind.

Do know that Judge Kopf is re-thinking “stfu” after receiving a letter from a lawyer friend who asked how the “attention and reaction create an appearance that assists the public’s acceptance of the law, help people trust judges, foster faith in our system, and advance the cause of the delivery of justice?”

I am going to give this letter serious consideration. It comes from someone I respect and whose judgment I trust. It also reminds me that, as a physician might say, I should always strive ‘first to do no harm.’ Blogging will be light while I figure this out.

I have had that feeling more than once in blogging over the last 11 years. I have received emails and texts that I have gone a step too far in attacking a company or person. I have had business associates ask “Why in God’s name would I go after the position of a partner with whom we’re doing business?”

Like Judge Kopf I gave their counsel serious consideration, took the lesson, and reminded myself that I could blog without doing harm.

Bottom line though, transparent, candid, honest, and authentic blogging is needed in the legal profession. Perhaps soften the tone at times, but bring on Judge Kopf’s style of blogging. We need it.

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