Recent events have reminded us all of the importance of the judiciary in shaping legal rights and responsibilities. With the confirmation of two new Supreme Court justices during the past year–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ’79 and Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.–we have debated large questions about the role of the judiciary in our society.

Such questions merit special attention here at Harvard Law School because our alumni have enjoyed unsurpassed success in the judicial arena–everywhere from the U.S. Supreme Court to state and local benches to courts in other countries. As you probably know, five of the nine Supreme Court justices graduated from HLS (with a sixth attending the school), and in this issue of the Bulletin you will get a rare glimpse into the mind of one of these eminent alumni: Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer ’64. Justice Breyer’s recent book, “Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution,” is an important contribution to legal scholarship and to the practice of judging, and I’m deeply grateful for his willingness to share his thoughts with us here.

Of course, before any justice can be confirmed, we have the spectacle of hearings. As cameras closed in on the nominees, HLS faculty members and alumni played central roles in the confirmation process. Two alums sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, while faculty members testified and advised from the sidelines. Not surprisingly, Harvard Law School being what it is, we saw a vibrant range of viewpoints.

One thing’s for sure: The life of a judge is not dull. Variety of work, intellectual stimulation, sense of purpose, and flexibility are some of the job’s key benefits, according to interviews with alumni judges. (On the downside, they sometimes struggle with crushing caseloads and miss the camaraderie they enjoyed as practicing lawyers.) I hope you enjoy their stories.

Meanwhile, here in Cambridge, we’re exploring new and exciting ways to prepare the next generation of judges–and the lawyers who will appear before them. Along with the traditional Ames Moot Court competitions, the law school now offers a unique seminar on Supreme Court advocacy taught by name partners of a top Supreme Court litigation boutique. Another innovation–this one organized by students–is a series of moot courts for litigators preparing to argue cases before the real Supreme Court. Students also work closely with faculty preparing briefs in major cases.

Looking farther afield, HLS alumni can be found on courts around the world. One prominent example is Navi Pillay LL.M. ’82 S.J.D. ’88, one of 18 judges elected to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the first permanent independent court established to address crimes against humanity. Such work has special resonance this year with the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, commemorated at HLS with several special events, including a remarkable conference organized by Professor Martha Minow.

Also in this issue, you will read about the many HLS students who have contributed in connection with Hurricane Katrina–traveling to the Gulf Coast for pro bono projects, fundraising and welcoming the 25 displaced New Orleans law students who studied at HLS this fall. They make us all proud.

On a sad note, we also pay tribute here to two extraordinary faculty members who passed away recently: Professors David Westfall ’50 and Arthur von Mehren ’45. They contributed mightily to Harvard Law School and will be greatly missed.

It’s impossible to overstate the role judges can play in upholding the rule of law and assuring that our legal systems are fair and unbiased. I’m gratified that so many HLS alums are thriving in this arena–and have no doubt that many of today’s students will soon follow in their footsteps.

Dean Elena Kagan ’86