NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For many years, federal appeals court Judge Richard Sheppard Arnold of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals traveled from Arkansas to Nashville to participate as a final-round judge in the First Amendment Center’s annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition. With his bow tie, humor and razor-sharp wit, he thrilled and challenged students with intriguing questions about the First Amendment and James Madison.
To the sadness of all involved with Moot Court and the center, Judge Arnold died in September 2004. But his presence will forever remain in spirit at the competition, as the First Amendment Center announced the inaugural Richard S. Arnold Memorial Award, to be given each year to the student who receives the highest marks in oral advocacy in the early rounds.
“Judge Arnold also was a great supporter of the law students participating in the National First Amendment Moot Court Competition. He cared deeply for the First Amendment, the future of the legal profession and an independent judiciary,” said Tiffany Villager, director of legal research and longtime Moot Court coordinator for the First Amendment Center.
The audience at the final round of the 15th annual competition saw a sparkling video tribute to Judge Arnold compiled by the First Amendment Center’s audio-visual specialist, Chris Amacher. The video showed clips from several years’ final-round Moot Court arguments. In one competition about regulation of violent video games, Arnold asked a befuddled student: “What do you think James Madison would have thought of this video game?”
Another time, engaging in a Socratic dialogue with a student advocate about bright-line tests in constitutional law, Arnold said: “The First Amendment is the brightest line in the Constitution.” On another occasion, he chided the competitors: “Don’t you find it odd that we’ve been here for 30 minutes and no one has quoted the text of the First Amendment?”
After the video, Arnold’s long-time friend and fellow federal appeals court jurist, Gilbert S. Merritt of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, paid tribute to his friend. Merritt, also a Moot Court veteran bench participant, announced the inaugural winner of the Richard S. Arnold award, Kelley Miller of the Western New England College of Law.
“This is a poignant moment for me today,” Merritt said in opening his tribute. He said he quickly learned there was “something special” about Arnold when he first met him 52 years ago as a fellow freshman at Yale University. Merritt recalled how he at first thought that “this boy from Arkansas (Arnold) is just as unsophisticated for Yale as I am, a farm boy from Tennessee. … That idea didn’t last long.”
Merritt told the audience that Arnold finished first in his class at Yale and first in his class at Harvard Law School. But he said Arnold’s greatest virtue was not his intellectual capacity or erudition but his “heart.”
“He was a real hero and a model,” Merritt said. “He had an enlarged capacity for sympathy. … He was instinctively all his life for the underdog and for the liberty and dignity of the little guy.”
Merritt told the story of how he and Arnold happened upon a panhandler. Arnold proceeded to give the man a dollar. Merritt told him: “Don’t give that beggar a dollar. He is probably an alcoholic or a dope addict.” He said Arnold did not like this chastisement, responding: “You never know, he may be an angel.”
First Amendment Center founder John Seigenthaler also spoke admiringly of Arnold and his commitment to an independent judiciary. He told participants how Arnold had debated former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., about the necessity to ensure an independent federal judiciary “in this very room” at the First Amendment Center several years ago.
“An independent judiciary from the very beginning has been the core value of what has made this a just society,” Seigenthaler said.
For as long as the National First Amendment Moot Court Competition continues, Judge Richard S. Arnold will be remembered for his devotion to the First Amendment and an independent judiciary.