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McGregor to teach course, lead new law project

June 11, 2010

One of Arizona’s most respected and experienced judges will join the faculty of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University to direct a new program that focuses on the interplay of local, state, federal and international governance.

Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor, who retired from the bench in 2009, has been named a Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence by Dean Paul Schiff Berman. McGregor will help lead the Project on Federalism and Separation of Powers in a Global Era, to be housed in the College’s Center for Law and Global Affairs. In addition, she will teach a course on human trafficking in spring 2011 and co-convene a conference on that topic with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Ret.).

“At no time in history has it been more important for people around the globe to come together, to put aside their political and philosophical differences and to address today’s mounting challenges,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “From local budget crises to an unprecedented national disaster in the Gulf to conflicts around the globe, we face serious problems that can only be solved collaboratively.

“This new project at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is a prime example of the innovations occurring at ASU, and I commend the law school for bringing Ruth McGregor, an alumna and one of Arizona’s most eminent legal minds, to teach and lead on its behalf,” Crow said.

Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the College of Law, called McGregor “a towering figure in the legal life of the state who has for years been one of our most respected jurists. We are therefore thrilled to form this substantive partnership with her to launch an important national dialogue on how different governmental entities can collaborate to solve global and local problems.”

McGregor, a 1974 alumna of the College of Law, is recognized throughout the United States for her work as a state court high judge. McGregor said that, during her tenure on the Supreme Court and before that as a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, she became increasingly aware of how seldom people in the three branches of government talk with each other and work together on matters of common concern.

“Of course the branches of government are separate, independent and equal,” she said. “But lines of demarcation are not always clear, and important matters often involve the responsibilities and interests of more than one branch of government. The same can be said of issues that affect both local and federal governments and of those that affect both domestic and foreign interests. My experience tells me that, if all those whose cooperation is required to resolve a problem can sit down to a meaningful discussion so that we can understand the problems the other branches face and draw on the expertise provided by each branch, we have a much better chance of moving forward.

“Unfortunately, we too often see ourselves as being in conflict with each other. In talking with leaders from other states, I have learned that the failure to work cooperatively across governmental entities is widespread,” McGregor added. “The goal of this project is to encourage governmental entities to work together to define and resolve emerging problems and challenges.”

McGregor is pleased that the project dovetails with the goals of the O’Connor House, the newly renovated former home of Justice O’Connor and her late husband John. It is a place in Tempe’s Papago Park where people can come together to reach consensus in a peaceful, collaborative manner, where civil talk leads to civic action.

This year the O’Connor House project launched two major, far-reaching programs. One brought together civic, business, education and political leaders who took on the issue of government in Arizona’s second century. The other invited myriad stakeholders from around Arizona to work together to create a cohesive and comprehensive new model to work with the growing and complex problem of domestic violence.

The College of Law’s Project on Federalism and Separation of Powers in a Global Era will investigate the new inter-governmental structures that are forming and develop cutting-edge ideas and policy recommendations for managing these emerging relationships. Topics for exploration may include:

• the appropriate spheres of federal and state authority with regard to stimulus projects
• the costs to the states and management of various health insurance proposals
• state implementation of and resistance to international law norms
• the bifurcation of power regarding immigration
• comparative analyses of other federal systems around the globe

“It is by now clear that no community exists in a vacuum and no governmental entity can operate in isolation from other governments,” Berman said. “Whether on matters of economic recovery, climate change policy, criminal justice, immigration, taxation or a host of others, local governments will – like it or not – be subject to pressures from other regional, national or international governance bodies.

“At the same time, local governments are increasingly recognized as essential to political reform, essential to development, essential to sustainability, and so on,” he added. “Thus, the interactions and influences flow in multiple directions.”

The spring conference hosted by McGregor and Justice O’Connor will bring together leaders, local, state and national government officials and scholars to address the brave new world of inter-systemic governance.

“Justice O’Connor brings a comprehensive understanding and approach to any topic,” McGregor said of her close friend. “She has a unique ability to recognize all the different pieces of a puzzle and how they must interact. She also has a knack for bringing together different people with different skills and different views, but who will work together cooperatively and collegiately. I don’t think this country has ever seen a retired Supreme Court justice with the level of enthusiasm for improving state government and its interaction with the federal government that Justice O’Connor has shown.”

In addition to her belief that alumni of the College of Law have a duty to give back to it, McGregor said she is excited about the law school’s new mission, which Berman calls “Legal Education in the Future Tense.”

“The law school is really at the forefront of inventing what today’s law schools should look like. The college’s willingness to set up conferences and institutes and to examine areas that have been, to some extent, neglected is unique,” McGregor said. “To the extent that any of us can encourage students to be concerned about issues that matter and to develop the skills they need to resolve these issues, we should do so.”

McGregor graduated summa cum laude and first in her class at the University of Iowa in 1964. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Iowa and taught English and Speech to high school students in Phoenix and in Selma, Ala., before attending law school at ASU, where she again graduated first in her class. McGregor also has a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia.

While working as employment attorney for the Phoenix law firm of Fennemore Craig, she took a leave to clerk for Justice O’Connor. McGregor was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1989 and to the Arizona Supreme Court in 1998, serving as Vice Chief Justice from 2002 to 2005, and as Chief Justice until her retirement in 2009.

McGregor currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for the Future of Arizona and of Justice at Stake, as section delegate for the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, and on the steering committee of the O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative

She is a founding member of the Sandra Day O'Connor American Inn of Court, the first Inn formed in Arizona, in which she has been active for more than 20 years. She is a past president and program chair of the Inn, and has played a significant role in mentoring younger members. McGregor also served as national secretary and a member of the executive committee of the American Inns of Court Foundation.

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law