The Last Word
Diana Gribbon Motz ’68
Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Describe your job and what you like about it.
I am a member of the court that resolves appeals from federal trial courts in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. These cases present a wide variety of issues ranging from financial disputes sometimes involving millions of dollars, to assertions of constitutional rights, to death penalty cases, to determination of the rights of enemy combatants. All are important to the litigants and so demand the best from the judges. Who wouldn’t like such interesting work?
What kinds of cases do you like to see on your docket?
My experience is that any case on which you work hard enough becomes interesting, but the constitutional law and tax cases are of particular interest to me, and the death penalty cases are the most difficult for me.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learned in the courtroom?
Preparation is the key to success. Preparation requires work—thinking hard about a case and its possible ramifications— and imagination in formulating a satisfactory theory as to why the court should resolve the case in your favor. As I constantly remind myself and my clerks, briefing and arguing a case in a way that persuasively anticipates and answers a court’s questions is a good deal more difficult than posing the questions. But it can be done, and it does not require a natural orator—for a thoughtful lawyer is far more persuasive, and far more helpful, than a glib one.
What makes a good judge?
Many of the same things that make a good lawyer or a good person make a good judge. Honesty, patience, curiosity, diligence, intellectual humility, a sense of humor, and a striving to leave individual prejudices behind and do justice are all important.
If I wasn’t a judge, I would be...
In college I thought about trying to become an actress. Since successful actresses are pretty rare and my talents are limited, if I had not found the law, I would probably be unemployed.
You were one of only two women in a class of 250 at UVA Law. What came to mind when you heard Dean Risa Goluboff would take the helm?
I was excited for Risa—and for the Law School. With her installation, I couldn’t help thinking that the Law School had come a long way from the days when all the “lady law students” shared one small bathroom- lounge in Clark Hall, or the time when a professor lost his seating chart and so drilled this “lady” (the only person whose name he knew) for the entire hour. UVA was a wonderful place when I was there and has become even more wonderful with the more diverse student body.
What’s your favorite memory from law school?
I have many fond memories, including the thrill of moot court, the heated discussions about arcane legal principles, the Libel Show, walks in the fragrant Charlottesville spring and the many dinner parties. I particularly remember the kindness of my first-year, small-section classmates; some of them asked me to join their study group. That was a lucky day for me—most of the study group later served on the Law Review.
You have the last word. What do you want to say?
UVA provided me with an excellent education, a deep appreciation of Southerners and some of the happiest days of my life—and perhaps most importantly, a kind and tolerant husband [J. Frederick Motz ’67]. I am very grateful. Thank you.