TURNING THE PAGE
A few months before retiring from the state Supreme Court,
Justice Alan Page sat down with us to look back at his judicial career
INTERVIEW BY ROSS PFUND
A: Not a challenge at all. You explore
all the possibilities you can see. I think
the key thing is being very clear about
what you’re addressing so that those
who take your opinions and use them
don’t have to guess, don’t have to try to
anticipate where you were going or what
you were trying to do. The challenge is
to say it clearly, and I find that part of
the work fascinating.
Q: At this point, you’ve been a justice
for many more years than you were a
practicing attorney, but do you think that
these qualities are different from the
ones it would take to be a good attorney?
A: I think in many respects the qualities
are the same—the application may be a
little bit different. One of the things that
is important for a justice on this court is to
understand that you’re not an advocate.
Your role is to figure out what the best
answer is to the particular problem,
whereas when you’re a practicing
attorney, you advocate for one side or the
other. Well, that’s not what we do; that’s
not what we should be doing.
Q: Have you ever run into a moment
where you wished you could have been
an advocate for something, despite the
fact that you knew you couldn’t be?
A: I haven’t run into the moment where
I wish I could have the world my way,
mainly because I know that I can’t and
that’s not my role. They say our role is to
exercise our judgment and not our will,
and it’s absolutely critical that whoever
serves on this court understands that. You
have to be able to make decisions that on
a personal level you wouldn’t necessarily
agree with. You have to be able to do that,
because that’s our function.
Q: What do you think you will miss the
most after you leave the court?
A: The most? All of it. The work that the
court does is fascinating, challenging and I
love every bit of it. Not being a part of it will
be a bit of a loss.
Q: What qualities does it take to be
successful as a justice?
A: Hard work, obviously. Intellectual
curiosity; openness to hearing what the
parties have to say. Being able to exercise
your judgment and working very hard
not to simply impose your will. Being
able to focus on the particular problem
that you’re dealing with and navigate
through that problem in ways that give
you an answer but don’t cause unforeseen
problems down the road.
Q: Is it challenging to think into the
future this way?
A: One of the things that I’ve discovered
is that the longer I’m here, the more
challenging it gets, because I can see
more—see the potential for more problems
or concerns by what we do today—than
I could back when I first started. I always
thought things would get easier. That’s not
the way it’s worked out.
Q: Is it also a challenge to not be
paralyzed by that foresight?
Q: In other interviews, you’ve said that
you’ll leave it to others to determine
which cases you’ve heard over the
years are the most important or most
significant. Why is that?
A: I’m not here to quantify how important
they are or not, and I think if a judge starts
doing that, then they start putting their
thumb on the scale. “This one’s more
important than that one, so I’ll spend more
time at it, I’ll work harder to get it right.
I’ll work harder to get the result that I
want.” You start doing that and it becomes
problematic. At least, that’s my view of the
world. Others, obviously, could disagree.
And besides that, they’re all important.
These cases involve real people with real
problems and far be it from me to say that
one person’s issues are more important
Q: So it’s important to come at cases
fairly from an effort standpoint.
A: Absolutely. You literally have to approach
each one until it gets filed with an openness
that allows you to change your views. And
once you start thinking “This is important”
and “I’ve got to make sure I get this one
right,” well, that suggests that maybe you’re
not going to work that hard to get the next
one right, or some other one right. That’s
just not a good way to function.
Q: How often have you changed your
views after really getting into a case?
A: It doesn’t happen every day, but it
does happen. I don’t know that I’ve ever
looked at the numbers, but [it happens]
probably more often than one might
think. And even though you might end up
with the same view of the outcome, how
you get there and what you say along
the way may change. And sometimes