December 10, 2013
Chief Judge Sarah S. Vance (L ’78)
Chief Judge Sarah S. Vance of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently was elected to the American Law Institute Council, one of five new members on ALI’s governing body. The council includes judges, academics and practitioners with a variety of specialties, and members serve five-year terms.
The American Law Institute is the leading independent U.S. group producing scholarly work to clarify and improve the law, and its elected membership is limited to 3,000 lawyers, judges and law professors.
Vance (L ’78) was a partner at Stone Pigman, focusing on antitrust and commercial litigation, when President Bill Clinton nominated her for the judiciary in 1994. She has been chief judge since 2008. Chief Justice John Roberts recently appointed her to a seven-year term on the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. That panel’s seven judges sit multiple times a year to decide whether to centralize cases — such as mass torts, asbestos litigation, securities fraud or products liability — from multiple federal districts into a single district.
Tulane Law School recently asked Vance, who also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board, about her work with ALI.
Q: How long have you been an ALI member, and what projects have you worked on?
A: I was elected a member of the ALI in 1996. I have served as an adviser on the ALI’s project on International Jurisdiction and Judgments, which culminated in a report entitled "Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments: Analysis and Proposed Federal Statute" (ALI 2006).
I am currently serving as an adviser on the project on Principles of the Law of Liability Insurance. One chapter on basic liability insurance contract principles and parts of another have been approved by the council and the membership, but the project is still a work in progress. Insurance issues come before me often, and it has been stimulating and educational to participate in discussions with high-level academics, judges and lawyers on questions of such significance in the lives of citizens, businesses and governments. I try to contribute from the standpoint of someone who is called upon often to interpret and apply insurance policies in conflicts that come before the courts.
I was also recently appointed to the ALI's Audit Committee, which oversees the integrity of the institute’s financial statements, internal controls and performance of its internal auditors, as well as the institute’s compliance with legal and ethical requirements.
Q: How will your responsibilities with the organization change as a council member?
A: The ALI Council is the primary governing body of the ALI. As a council member, I am now involved in the process of determining which projects and programs will be undertaken by the ALI. For example, as a council member, I will be involved in deciding whether to embark on a new Restatement of the law in any area or to update any Restatement that the institute previously adopted. The council also must evaluate and approve work in progress before it may be submitted to the membership. The council appoints the institute's officers and its executive committee, as well as special committees to oversee the work of the organization, such as the program, audit and membership committees.
Q: What, in your opinion, are ALI's most important accomplishments?
A: Since its creation in 1923, the ALI has been dedicated to promoting the clarification and simplification of the law and to making the law better adapted to social needs. Its mission also includes improving the administration of justice and conducting scholarly and scientific legal work. By far, the ALI’s most important contribution has been the Restatements of the Law, Principles of the Law and model statutes that have proved enormously influential in the courts, legislatures, legal scholarship and education.
For example, United States courts cited the ALI’s Restatements and Principles of Law more than 191,000 times as of June of this year, and the Supreme Court cited the ALI’s publications in 10 cases over the course of the past year. This is a testament to the institute’s reputation for excellence and objectivity.
Q:. What do you hope to achieve as a council member?
A: I was somewhat overwhelmed when Judge Diane Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told me that I would be asked to join the ALI’s Council. The group consists of some of the most distinguished jurists, academics and practitioners in America. I expect that this will be a learning experience par excellence, and my biggest hope is that I can keep up.
That said, my goal is to contribute to the institute’s work of improving and simplifying the law from my vantage point as a federal trial judge. I hope that my 20 years of experience on the federal bench will give me some insights into how the ALI’s projects could improve judicial decision-making and into the actual and potential implications of the institute’s statements in real-world application.