A senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals will be the keynote speaker for the Sept. 17 observance of Constitution Day at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham will speak at 5 p.m. in J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library Auditorium on “The Constitution: Interpretation Dynamics and Historical Influences,” said Dr. Gary A. Keith, an associate professor with UIW’s Department of Government and International Affairs.
The department and the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences are key sponsors of the annual Constitution Day observance, which takes place nationwide, said Keith, who also serves as a pre-law adviser at UIW.
In 2004, then-U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd sponsored and pushed through a mandate for educational institutions to observe Constitution Day. Public Law 108-447 designates Sept. 17 as Constitution Day and stipulates this: “Each educational institution that receives federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the (U.S.) Constitution on (Sept. 17) of such year for the students served by the educational institution.”
Higginbotham, this year’s speaker, maintains his chambers in Austin, Texas, but still hears cases with the Fifth Circuit based in New Orleans.
He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he was a scholarship tennis player and later team captain. He also got his law degree from the university’s School of Law. Upon passing the bar, Higginbotham joined the Judge Advocate Corps for the U.S. Air Force. After leaving the Air Force, he entered private practice in Dallas. In 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed him as a federal district judge for the Northern District of Texas and President Ronald Reagan elevated him to the circuit level in 1982.
Higginbotham holds an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The judge Higginbotham has taught courses at several law schools and the Federal Judicial Center. He currently teaches a course on constitutional law at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio.
He is former president of the American Inns of Court Foundation, which is designed to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of judges and lawyers. He has served as a member of the Board of Editors of the American Bar Journal and has served as a legal adviser and a lecturer internationally. Additionally, he has been a director of the Dallas Bar Foundation, American Judicature Society, and Maritime Law Association, and has chaired the Executive Committee of the Center for American and International Law and the Appellate Judges Conference. He has published numerous articles in law reviews and lectures around the nation and internationally.
So UIW is hoping the judge’s appearance will spark interest in hearing a jurist’s perspective on the Constitution and the UIW’s Constitutional Law classes that Keith teaches.
“As citizens, we all live under the Constitution, and we talk about it, but how much of it do we really understand?,” Keith said. “As students and academicians here at UIW, this annual Constitution Day observance gives us all the chance for a brief exploration of how the Constitution affects us, how it is interpreted, what its significance is.”