By Lieutenant Colonel Josiah T. Griffin
On 17 October 2022, the Honorable Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, delivered the thirty-ninth Charles L. Decker Lecture in Administrative and Civil Law at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS). Students of the 71st Graduate Course and 218th Officer Basic Course were in attendance, along with TJAGLCS and University of Virginia (UVA) School of Law faculty, staff, and students. To facilitate viewing from the entire legal community on UVA’s North Grounds, the lecture was simulcast to overflow rooms at both TJAGLCS and the UVA School of Law.1 Many distinguished guests from the Army, our sister services, and the Department of Justice also attended this year’s lecture.2
Major General (MG) Charles L. Decker served as the twenty-fifth Judge Advocate General of the Army from 1 January 1961 until his retirement on 31 December 1963.3 Among many other notable accomplishments, MG Decker was the dominant force responsible for establishing The Judge Advocate General’s School, U.S. Army at UVA in 1951, thereby making Charlottesville the regimental home of the Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.4 He also served as the JAG School’s first commandant.5 In recognition of MG Decker’s significant contributions, the school established the Charles L. Decker Lecture in Administrative and Civil Law on 11 May 1977, when MG Decker delivered the first chaired lecture of the series named in his honor.6 His lecture, entitled “The Chair and Challenge,” discussed past achievements and future challenges for the Corps and the school.7 Thanks in no small part to MG Decker’s work as both school commandant and later as The Judge Advocate General (TJAG), the partnership between TJAGLCS and UVA Law continues to support a strong legal community on UVA’s North Grounds.8
In the years since MG Decker’s inaugural lecture, many luminaries of administrative and civil law have honored the series with their remarks, including distinguished professors, judges, cabinet secretaries, and other former TJAGs.9 A United States Supreme Court Justice delivered the lecture once previously, just over thirty years ago. On 20 February 1992, Justice Antonin Scalia became the sixteenth Decker lecturer, delivering remarks entitled “The Use of Legislative History—Judicial Abdication to Fictitious Legislative Intent.”10
Justice Kagan’s lecture was informative, entertaining, and unique. In contrast to a traditional lecture format, Justice Kagan delivered the lecture as a question-and-answer conversation. Brigadier General Alison Martin, TJAGLCS Commanding General, hosted the lecture, and Colonel Tonya Blackwell, Dean of TJAGLCS, introduced Justice Kagan. The current Chair of the Administrative and Civil Law Department at TJAGLCS, Lieutenant Colonel Emilee Elbert, guided the conversation with Justice Kagan through topics including legal writing, pop culture, mentorship, and the role of humor on the Court. Highlights of the discussion included Justice Kagan’s description of the process she uses to author opinions, her thoughts on the mentorship that she benefited from as a judicial clerk, her time as the United States’ Solicitor General, the role of dissenting opinions, and the accessibility of Supreme Court oral arguments.11
At the conclusion of the lecture, Lieutenant General Stuart Risch, the forty-first TJAG, expressed thanks for Justice Kagan’s distinguished service and for her visit to the regimental home of the Army JAG Corps. Justice Kagan’s visit to TJAGLCS and delivery of the thirty-ninth Decker lecture was a treat for the legal community in attendance, and a significant highlight for students of the 71st Graduate and 218th Officer Basic Courses. TAL
LTC Griffin is the Vice Chair of the Administrative and Civil Law Department at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
1. The lecture was recorded and is available for public viewing at TJAGLCS TELEVISON, 39th Major General Charles L. Decker Lecture in Administrative and Civil Law, YouTube (Nov. 9, 2022) https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=VFQ2aDZZ4SE.
2. Distinguished guests included the Honorable Carrie Ricci, Army General Counsel; the Honorable Christopher Kavanaugh, United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia; Denise Council-Ross, Army Principal Deputy General Counsel; Rear Admiral Christopher French, Deputy Judge Advocate General for the Navy; Colonel Valerie Danyluk, Chief Defense Counsel of the Marine Corps; and Risa Goluboff, Dean of the UVA School of Law.
3. The U.S. Army JAG Corps, The Army Lawyer: A History of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, 1775- 1975, at 234 (1975).
4. Id. at 233.
6. JAG School Notes, Army Law., June 1977, at 21.
8. Katie McNally, A Shared Calling, Univ. of VA Sch. of L. (June 13, 2017) https://www.law.virginia.edu/ news/201706/shared-calling.
9. Previous Decker Lecturers: Lieutenant General (Retired) Dana Chipman (2021), the Honorable Edwin Meese III (2019), the Honorable Patrick Shanahan (2018), Leigh A. Bradley (2017), the Honorable Patrick J. Murphy (2016), the Honorable Bruce E. Kasold (2015), the Honorable Stuart Delery (2014), Dean Thomas J. Romig (2013), the Honorable Thomas P. Lamont (2012), Hollister K. Petraeus (2011), Lieutenant General (Retired) Russel L. Honoré (2010), the Honorable Donna E. Shalala (2008), the Honorable Donald L. Korb (2007), Major General Michael D. Rochelle (2006), the Honorable David S.C. Chu (2005), Mr. Adrian Cronauer (2004), the Honorable Kay Coles James (2003), the Honorable Anthony J. Principi (2002), the Honorable Janice R. Lachance (1999), the Honorable Sara E. Lister (1997), Major General (Retired) Hugh J. Clausen (1994), Professor Lillian R. BeVier (1993), the Honorable Antonin Scalia (1992), Judge Laurence H. Silberman (1991), Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr. (1990), Judge William W. Wilkins, Jr. (1989), Senator Strom Thurmond (1988), Professor John C. Jeffries, Jr. (1987), Mr. Robert M. O’Neil (1986), Dean Eugene V. Rostow (1985), Judge Robert K. Bork (1984), Professor Henry J. Abraham (1983), Professor Richard C. Wydick (1982), Major General (Retired) Lawrence H. Williams (1981), Professor John J. Broderick (1980), Professor Charles H. Whitebread, (1979), Professor A.E. Dick Howard (1978), Major General (Retired) Charles L. Decker (1977). Event Program, The Judge Advoc. Gen. Legal Ctr. and Sch., The Thirty-Ninth Charles L. Decker Lecture in Administrative and Civil Law (Oct. 17, 2022) (on file with author).
10. U.S. Ct. of Mil. Appeals, Annual Report of the Code Committee on Military Justice for the Period October 1, 1991 to September 30, 1992, at 39 (1992).
11. See TJAGLCS TELEVISON, supra note 1.