Yellowhammers Exclusive Interview with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart
In her seventeenth year on the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Lyn Stuart was recently appointed Chief Justice by Governor Kay Ivey. Chief Justice Stuart was kind enough to visit with Yellowhammer for an exclusive interview to provide our readers some insights on the lady who holds the highest position in the Alabama Supreme Court. Below is that interview:
What was your childhood like in Atmore?
It was quite idyllic. Like most children in those days, we spent much of our time outdoors, actively playing when we weren’t in school. Because I grew up in such a small town, we knew our neighbors and it was safe for children to be out and about. We often rode our bikes to a small country store a quarter mile or so from our home and I have a great appreciation for the simple and tranquil Alabama upbringing I enjoyed.
When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine that one day you’d be Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court?
Absolutely not. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I’d have the honor of serving my fellow Alabamians in this role.
As a student, what attracted you to the law?
It began with my interest in the juvenile justice system when I was still in high school. I really wanted to be a juvenile probation officer but those positions were rarely open, so at Auburn, I took the LSATs without much forethought. Thankfully, because my test scores were high, I received a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama Law School and was also accepted into Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. However, I didn’t enroll right away. I accepted an internship in Washington with former Congressman Jack Edwards. He was a great encouragement and really inspired my career. He also allowed me to audit a class at Georgetown Law School—a legal research and writing class. That proved to be really helpful when I eventually enrolled in law school at Alabama because I’d already mastered this discipline of legal research and writing. I was so impressed with that class that I considered staying in D.C. and going to Georgetown, but Congressman Edwards took me to lunch one day and encouraged me to come home to Alabama, which was definitely the right decision. Not only did I love my three years of law school in Tuscaloosa, Congressman Edwards told me there would be classmates I’d interact with throughout my career, and that proved to be some of the wisest advice I’d ever received.
Who are some of those people?
Honestly, they’re too numerous to name, but a few that come to mind are Harold Stephens, Bradley Byrne (my Congressman), John Tyson, Sam Crosby, and so many others. It’s a community of professional colleagues for whom I’m very grateful.
What’s one piece of advice would you give to students considering the law or already in law school?
It’s a great career, but if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, above all else do internships and shadow someone. My jobs in law offices and my internship in Washington went far in shaping my career, so by all means, young students should get the work experience they need to refine their interests, which will also make the classroom experiences more meaningful.
Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
Once again, they’re too numerous to name, but in addition to Congressman Edwards, one that comes to mind is the late Judge Robert Key. He was a circuit judge in Monroe and Conecuh Counties, and a friend of my father’s, so I’d known him from childhood. I took a job as a runner in a small law firm in Monroeville, and that afforded me the opportunity to listen to trials, to see how law offices operate and have a front-row seat to the world that would eventually become my profession. So Judge Key was not only a trusted family friend but a person of tremendous influence in my life.
As a judge in the Juvenile Justice system in Alabama, what’s the most inspiring story you recall?
Once I was in Walmart near my home not long after 9/11 when I was approached by a gentleman I didn’t recognize. He said something like, “Ma’am, I know you don’t remember me but my son was in your court some years ago, and you were kind and fair with him. Today, that same young man is building those bombs that are being dropped on the terrorists that attacked our country, and I just want to thank you for what you did for my child. It helped him become the man he is today.” To say that hearing this redemptive story was a powerful and moving moment in my life is a huge understatement.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about your service on the Alabama Supreme Court?
Each of the Justices has areas of expertise. That’s what makes our Supreme Court function so well. When I first came on the Court, I was the only person with a background in juvenile and family law. People are always surprised at the number of those cases we have but I think my background in that field, and in criminal law in general, has allowed to me add real value to the court. Also, because I was a trial judge for 12 years before serving on the high court, I think it gives me a perspective that’s helpful for the cases we consider. My time as a trial judge taught me that judges must be patient with people—with attorneys and parties. We have to patiently and carefully consider what everyone has to say, no matter who they are or why they’re there, and I think that perspective has also served me well on the Supreme Court.
In a world full of judicial activism, how would you describe the Alabama Supreme Court’s role?
Quite simply, we decide every single case based solely on the facts and the laws that apply to those facts. In other words, our job is to interpret the law and to affirm and uphold what it says. It’s not our job to make the law. For that reason, we leave political considerations aside and do only what wise judges should do, discern what the law says about each case that comes before us.
In closing, tell me about your two grandchildren:
My husband and I are blessed to have two wonderful grandchildren. Our granddaughter Sophie starts kindergarten next fall and our grandson Thomas is two. Every moment spent with them is time well spent!