April 19, 2023 – Judge Janice Brown, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, will be one of three panelists discussing “cancel culture” at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Annual Meeting and Conference in Milwaukee.
The plenary is titled “Cancel Culture: Threat to Free Speech or Vital Accountability Measure?” Judge Brown also served on the California Supreme Court.
The other panelists are Judge James C. Griesbach, Senior District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and Professor Franciska Coleman, an assistant professor of constitutional law and associate director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center at the U.W. Law School.
James Goldschmidt, an appellate litigator with Quarles and Brady LLP in Milwaukee, will moderate the panel.
Goldschmidt will lead a discussion of the cancel culture phenomenon and its effect on free speech in courtrooms, on university campuses, and beyond.
Grew Up Under Jim Crow
Judge Brown was born in Alabama.
She came of age during the Jim Crow era, when white supremacists across the American South used violence against African Americans to enforce their vison of a racially pure America.
For Brown, growing up in that environment was formative.
“My grandparents and my great uncles were very involved in what came to be known as the Civil Rights movement,” Judge Brown said.
“But civil rights in those days was a fairly conservative position because it involved the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in a positive way. People were simply trying to join the political community, not destroy it.”
Course Change in College
After high school, Brown left Alabama for California, where she was enrolled as an undergraduate at California State University in Sacramento.
Jeff M. Brown, Willamette Univ. School of Law 1997, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6126.
It was the late sixties, and college campuses across America were aflame with protest – none more so than the University of California-Berkeley, located just 80 miles from Sacramento.
Upon her arrival in Sacramento, Brown allowed herself to be carried along by the leftward drift that was prominent on college campuses at the time.
“When I went off to college, like everybody else, I thought, ‘Well now I have to decide not what my parents believe but what do I believe?’” Judge Brown said.
As the protest movement turned its focus from student free speech to the war in Vietnam, Brown underwent a change of heart.
“I’m a people watcher, so I saw the games that were being played in terms of that, and I didn’t want to join,” Judge Brown said.
A class about the history of conservative ideas set her on a new path.
“The minute I got in that class, I recognized that that made much more sense to me than the romantic revolutionary mystique that everybody in school seemed to be thinking,” Judge Brown said. “I found myself much more in sync with thinkers who were more conservative.”
The class piqued Brown’s interest in the history of the U.S. Constitution – a document with principles, Brown said, that were a natural fit with her upbringing in a family of faith.
“I began to understand what the Founders were saying, and how they looked at this notion of the universal and first principles,” Judge Brown said. “That was actually very natural for me.”
“I think I was raised pretty much to be a conservative in that I was always taught responsibility and resilience, and to treat everyone with respect,” Brown said.
“I had a fairly positive notion of America even though I lived in a place where there was de jure segregation and things were not going well at that point.”
One of the problems with trying to live in a regime of self-government is that it requires individuals to have a very particular kind of understanding, and responsibility and restraint … That is definitely not where we are now, I think because we’ve lost that thread entirely.
After obtaining her law degree from UCLA in 1977, Brown served as deputy legislative counsel for the California Legislative Council.
It was the first in a series of government jobs, including stints as California Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Secretary and General Counsel for the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.
“I sort of naturally gravitated toward the public sector in part because I really did have that sense of wanting to do something that wasn’t just about success but was also about significance,” Brown said. “I’d grown up with people who put themselves out to help other people change their communities, and that was not an easy thing to do.”
“They were trying to help people to get registered to vote, and it was a pretty dangerous thing to do,” Brown said. “If where I grew up wasn’t ground zero for the Klu Klux Klan, it was pretty close.”
Elevation to the Bench
In November 1994, California Governor Peter Wilson appointed Brown to the California Supreme Court.
In 2003, President George Bush appointed Brown to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2005.
Shortly after her appointment to the federal bench, Brown was one of 13 judges considered by Bush to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Lessons from Teaching Law
During her time in state government, Judge Brown also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Pacific McGeorge School Law.
Brown says that she’s come to believe that the common method of teaching constitutional law is flawed.
“You don’t really learn about the telos of the constitution or what it was they were trying to do or how the people who drafted it thought it would work,” Judge Brown said.
“What you learn is what the courts have said about it, and the courts have said some things that are completely antithetical to the language of those documents.”
Over time, Brown says, America’s appellate courts in their rulings have drifted far afield from the intent of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
“I think you find a very different idea than the way the courts have, over time, evolved this notion of what constitutional law is,” Judge Brown said.
According to Brown, the lodestar of constitutional interpretation is the body of written work set down by the Founding Fathers.
“You would do much better understanding the Constitution – and this is why the Declaration of Independence is so significant – if you both read the people who drafted it, in their own words, at the time – not what somebody else thought they were doing, but what they thought they were doing,” Brown said.
Natural Rights Scholar
Judge Brown has written and lectured extensively about natural rights, an intellectual tradition that dates from the 18th century and holds that human rights are the product of human reason rather than creations of government.
Brown describes natural rights as stemming based in “the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.”
“We are all the same, we are not gods, we are not beasts, we are human, that puts us all on the same level. If you are going to rule over us, you can only legitimately do that with our consent,” Judge Brown said. “That’s what it means to have a natural law, natural rights regime.”
Brown said the U.S., which was founded as a natural rights regime, has lost its way.
“One of the problems with trying to live in a regime of self-government is that it requires individuals to have a very particular kind of understanding, and responsibility and restraint – a willingness to restrain your appetites and desires in a way that serves the common good,” Judge Brown said. “That is definitely not where we are now, I think because we’ve lost that thread entirely.”
Federal and state governments, Brown said, have deviated from the sensibility that undergirds the concept of natural rights – that the majority must look out for the minority.
She cited the federal government’s abandonment of Reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War and the creation of the modern administrative state under President Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives as two examples.
The Progressive movement, Judge Brown said, “really looked back at the Declaration of Independence and said ‘Those are just Fourth of July sentiments, they’re not really meaningful, and you ordinary people, you’re not really capable of self-government – you really have to have experts, this class of elites, who will sort it all out for you, just leave it to us.’”
The ideas behind those developments, Brown said, have filtered down to judges and exerted a deleterious influence on American jurisprudence.
“Natural law has a much harder time of it because we have Darwinism, we have evolution, we have this idea that God is, if not dead, at least not necessary,” Judge Brown said. “And I think how you interpret these things has a lot to do with what you feel about those underlying ideas.”
About the 2023 Annual Meeting and Conference
This year’s AMC is in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, at the historic Pfister Hotel, just blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan and close to art centers, theaters, and the 3rd Ward.
See nationally-renowned plenary speakers, attend your choice of more than 20 CLE sessions to enhance your practice, and network and celebrate with your colleagues.
It’s a great excuse to visit Milwaukee – recently named by National Geographic magazine as one of the best destinations to travel to in 2023 – one of five U.S. places on this list of 25 “Best of the World” destinations.
Networking with Bench and Bar
AMC is the largest State Bar gathering of the bench and bar – providing opportunities for conversations with judges outside the courtroom. Meet judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and circuit courts from across Wisconsin.
Judges are among the presenters and speaker, and also have the opportunity to attend and earn judicial credit.
Your Choice of CLE Sessions – and Opportunities to Network
CLE sessions at AMC will cover trends, topics, and advice to boost your practice, including the Friday morning interactive ethics plenary – as well as over a dozen breaks, social events, and a networking luncheon on Thursday.
Customize your schedule to earn up to 12.5 CLE, EPR, LPM, and LAU credits (plus CLM credits for Wisconsin Association of Legal Administrators members) on a vast array of topics for every practice area and experience level. Additional credits may be earned by watching select complimentary webcast replays during specific weeks in July and August.
Celebrate with Your Colleagues
On Wednesday, celebrate as Dean Dietrich is sworn in as the 68th president of the State Bar of Wisconsin – followed by the Marquette and U.W. law school alumni reception where all are invited.
On Thursday, join us as we applaud award recipients at the Member Recognition Celebration, followed by the Red Carpet Reception and social event.
Welcome Back, Wisconsin Association of Legal Administrators
As they did last year, the Wisconsin Association of Legal Administrators (WALA) is holding its Annual Conference of Education in conjunction and cooperation with AMC, bringing attorneys and WALA members together to mix and mingle.
The Wednesday WALA sessions are available to all AMC attendees, and include topics on practice management, recruitment tactics in a tight job market, and data breaches and best practices to lower risk and mitigate harm. WALA attendees can earn up to 3.0 CLM credits from the Wednesday sessions and are invited to attend all of the AMC programs and breakouts with the full conference registration.
What's Included in Your Registration Fee
Registration includes access to plenary speaker sessions, CLE breakout sessions, WALA educational sessions, Legal Expo, continental breakfasts on Thursday and Friday, conference breaks, all receptions, celebrations, parties, and the chance for entry into prize drawings. It also includes conference course materials in downloadable formats.
AMC Registration: Reserve Your Spot by May 5 for Best Rate
Save on your registration when you register by the early early-bird deadline of April 28, 2023. Plus, first time member-attendees save an additional $100 off registration.
Stay at The Pfister: How to Get the Conference Rate
Reserve your room at
The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, a
historic hotel that opened in 1893.
See all available hotel services and amenities.
Make your reservation by May 14, 2023, for the best room rates. To ensure you receive the conference discount, mention you’re with the State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Meeting & Conference when making your reservation by phone.
To reserve your room: