Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and Constitutional Law at the City Club

On Friday, December 14th, we went to two different events: a Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce “Morning Buzz” which took place at the Market Garden Inn, and a program at the City Club featuring the Honorable Jeffrey S. Sutton, a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District and the author of 51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law, which examines the role of state courts and state constitutions-working together with the federal system-in protecting civil liberties.

Morning Buzz

Mr. Matt Whitson at Morning Buzz

At the Morning Buzz, the speaker for the occasion was Mr. Matt Whitson, Managing Principal-HR & Compensation Consulting for Arthur C. Gallagher & Company, an international company which was rated by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies from 2012 to 2018.

The topic of Mr. Whitson’s presentation was “Return on Talent Investment,” in which he contended that two of the most important factors in determining a firm’s ability to retain productive employees are the culture of the the organization and the ability of an employee to communicate their concerns with an immediate supervisor who will properly address them.  Naturally, appropriate compensation is important but not as much so, he argued.

Two of the people that we networked with while in Akron were strong influences for positive action in their communities: Mr. Tugg Massa, the Executive Director of Akron Say No To Dope, Inc., which has assisted many people struggling with chemical dependency issues, and Ms. Pamela Valentine, Manager of Community Development for the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio. Mr. Massa has worked with immigrants/refugees living in the North Hill area of Akron and Ms. Valentine has watched many foreign-born young women increase their confidence through involvement with the Girl Scouts.

City Club with Judge Sutton

At the City Club, when we first arrived, we visited with Mr. Chris Harrow, a math teacher at Hawken School in Gates Mills where Ms. Margaret W. Wong once spoke. Along with Ms. Katie Scott, a history teacher there, Mr. Harrow was escorting 23 students who were engaged an intensive course entitled “Gerrymandering Democracy,” in which all aspects of redistricting were examined and dissected.  

We learned that the students were divided into six groups and each group was charged with drawing a workable and equitable map of potential congressional district boundaries, taking into consideration that one district might be lost due to a decrease in our population. Under the provisions of Proposition 1, passed by the voters in May of 2018, the students’ maps have the potential to be submitted for consideration prior to the next reapportionment in two years time. We were also interested to learn that the number of House representatives has remained fixed at 435 for about 100 years, even though the country’s population has tripled in that time. Mr. Harrow told us that this is a three week intensive course which involves the students 7 or 8 hours a day for five days a week for three weeks. We were most impressed by this undertaking that indeed requires a knowledge of both math and history.

Judge Sutton Speaking at the City Club

As the City Club notes read, the Judge Sutton “has had a distinguished career in law; he clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, has been a federal judge for more than 15 years after being appointed in 2003 by President George W. Bush, commands tremendous respect nationwide as a jurist, and is a prolific feeder judge, sending several law clerks to the Supreme Court.

During the course of his presentation, Judge Sutton presented his case that too much emphasis has been placed on the role of the federal judiciary, namely the U.S. Supreme Court. He also argued that the Supreme Court confirmation process for judges has become dangerously political and the partisanship has negatively impacted public confidence.

Instead, he believed that more emphasis must be placed on the abilities of the state courts to address tough issues and cited several examples which proved that their impact has been underrated. Judge Sutton contended that states’ courts could be a testing ground for various initiatives which could lead to more widespread federal involvement. For example, marriage equality was upheld by several state courts and then a groundwork was laid for the issue to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Sutton smiled as he said that perhaps the real hero in this instance was not U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell vs. Hodges in 2015, but Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall, who wrote the majority opinion in Goodridge vs. Dept. of Public Health in 2003, which established marriage equality there.

During the Q&A, we asked Judge Sutton to respond words concerning the role of the courts in immigration matters. Judge Sutton was glad to take this on and said that immigration was indeed one of the few issues that could only be addressed by courts operating at the federal level. He did say, however, that there might be a couple of exceptions, such as determining the legitimacy of sanctuary cities, which has provoked great controversy regarding whether or not they are a local matter.