Chief Justice Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award

The Chief Justice John Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award is the Judge Advocate Foundation's highest award. The Foundation established the Award commemorating Chief Justice Marshall to honor an individual who once served as a judge advocate, left active duty military service, and subsequently made great contributions and achievements outside the military legal system.

2010 Recipient of the JAF Chief Justice Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award:

The Honorable Patrick E. Higginbotham, Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit

Acceptance of Chief Justice John Marshall Life Achievement Award

Patrick E. Higginbotham

May 13, 2010, Army Navy Country Club – Arlington, VA

I am honored to be recognized by a group that I admire and respect.  I was proud of my service and remain so nearly a half century after it began.  I am particularly pleased at the opportunity to publicly acknowledge my great debt to JAG officers and supporting staff who taught me so much.  I was immediately sent into the courtroom, first as a prosecutor and then defense counsel – little aware that courtrooms would be my workplace the ensuing forty-six (46) years.  I was, to borrow from Texas, an imprinted colt. 

Eric Hoffer tells us that “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”  I saw that wisdom applied in our insistence upon respect for all participants in the trial process – the dignity due a man – even one who had egregiously injured others in disrespect of that obligation.  As a trial lawyer in private practice I called on that teaching – that we salute the uniform, we respect the authority of rank – looking through the person holding it.  I did so by doing just that when facing counsel and sometimes a judge who made it difficult not to respond in kind.

Civility is a value we preach in the American Inns of Court.  And, as my friend Chief Judge Sentelle—a pillar of that institution as well as his court—will tell you, it is no accident that its first two executive directors, soon to be three, are retired JAG officers, that in no small measure because a leader of the American Inns of Court must be a living symbol of civility and disciplined respect for our legal institutions and the rule of law.

We see former JAG officers in an array of positions in the courts, in the judiciary, private practice, as Dean of law schools and high elective office, from the Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States to the United States Senate – and of course Chief Justice of the United States in the person of John Marshall.

My work is no more distinguished than any of their wide array.  So I must then accept this recognition on behalf of the large class of judge advocates who benefited so much from the opportunity to serve.  I found the military justice system to be fair and just.  Inferior to no system of courts, state or federal – and over the past forty-nine (49) years I have been in many of them.  I have watched with admiration as lawyers in uniform stand tall representing their clients with the courage and dedication that task demands.  There is no inevitable tension between duty as an officer and duty as a lawyer.  A soldier knows his role.  That role can include prosecuting, defending and judging with the independence these roles require.

It is not flawless, it is simply the best system of military justice in the world.  That it works as well as it has cannot be fully appreciated without awareness of the difficult times and circumstances in which we often have asked it to perform.

Dr. King preached that “the ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

By this focused and demanding metric of performance, as a citizen and a member of the class I represent, and you recognize tonight, we thank you for your distinguished service.  This night has summoned a flood of memories and lighted values encoded in my soul.  In that spirit and on behalf of the class I represent – we salute you who continue to carry forward this splendid tradition.                                                   

God speed.




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