On Wednesday, Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, spoke to Elon University students in a lecture titled “The Third Branch: How a Trusted, Diverse Judiciary is Crucial to Ensuring our Democracy,” host by Elon’s Liberal Arts Forum.
Blackburne-Rigsby was introduced by senior Emily Hayes, the president of Elon’s Liberal Arts Forum. The Liberal Arts Forum is a group of students who meet weekly to bring to campus academic speakers for each semester who embody Elon’s commitment to a liberal arts education.
Blackburne-Rigsby began her lecture by outlining how the U.S. court system works. She shared jokes and personal anecdotes as she discussed the importance of the judicial branch in a democratic society.
Above all else, the role of the judicial branch is to interpret the constitution and determine whether or not the laws we pass uphold the constitution.
After establishing a base knowledge on the court system, Blackburne-Rigsby went on to discuss the growing need for diversity in the judicial branch.
“I think diversity is a symbol of justice,” Blackburne-Rigsby said.
She stressed the importance for diversity to bring varied opinions and perspectives into
the court room. Having a diverse court system allows for greater access to justice.
Blackburne-Rigsby specifically spoke about the concept of Miranda Rights, a precedent that gives criminal defendants the right to an attorney. But, these rights only apply to criminal cases, not civil. If someone is charged with a crime in a civil suit and cannot afford an attorney, they will still not be given one by the courts. For this reason, Blackburne-Rigsby said it is important to have judges who will be able to empathize with defendants’ backgrounds.
She concluded by opening the floor up for questions from the audience.
Sophomore Jack Thorne attended the event for a class assignment, but found the lecture to be much more interesting than he expected.
“Anna Blackburne-Rigsby was a really engaging speaker so it was really easy to become interested,” Thorne said. “I learned so much about diversity in the judicial branch and about concepts I had even considered before.”
Blackburne-Rigsby’s has a special connection to Elon too, making this lecture even more special. Her son, Julian Rigsby, is a sophomore at Elon and a member of the Liberal Arts Forum. He is the one who pitched her as a speaker last year.
At first, Rigsby wasn’t sure if the Liberal Arts Forum would support the idea of bringing his mother as a speaker, but he was pleasantly surprised when the group was as excited about the idea as he was.
“I’ve looked up to my mom forever and she’s the biggest inspiration in my life,” Rigsby said. “I’ve seen her speak so many different times in a variety of venues and to countless different types of people. She is an amazing woman who works harder than anyone I know. She is so committed and has so much passion for the work that she does and I know she loves being a judge so much.”
Unfortunately, Rigsby could not attend the event because of a stomach virus, but he still views having his mother speak on campus as one of his best memories at Elon.
“Bringing her to Elon was one of the best ideas I’ve had in college,” Rigsby said. “Sadly I had a stomach virus and the day she was supposed to speak, I couldn’t attend her speech. My other members in the forum kept me updated the entire time and told me that she spoke with all of the elegance and awesomeness that I was already aware of. She honestly changes my life daily and I love her more and more every day because of how loving, passionate, and strong she is.”
Blackburne-Rigsby was appointed to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia by former president Bill Clinton and then appointed to the D.C. Court of Appeals by George W. Bush in 2006. Later this week, she will be sworn in as chief justice of the court.