Judge Jay C. Zainey gives presidential distinguished lecture

Leo Castell, Staff

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The Homer L. Hitt Presidential Lecture Series is aimed at bringing speakers with distinguished backgrounds in various fields of knowledge to the University of New Orleans in order to discuss with students, faculty, staff and the greater New Orleans community, ideas promoting intellectual discussion.

This year’s topic was “Social Justice, Community Service and the Rule of Law” and was given by UNO alumnus, The Honorable Judge Jay C. Zainey.

Judge Zainey began his speech by asking the audience how many had gone to college with the goal of saving the world. He went on to explain that following his UNO graduation in 1973, he wanted to change the world. Now, over forty years later, he realizes that no one can change the world.

“Pope Francis can’t change the world. President Obama can’t change the world. Martin Luther King couldn’t change the world. Gandhi couldn’t change the world. No human being can change the world. But that’s okay. Each of us in this room has the ability to change other people’s worlds for the better.”

Beginning his lecture with social justice, Judge Zainey said, “Sometimes, when people hear the term, ‘social justice,’ they think this is a liberal concept. The truth is that social justice is a term that defies the labels of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’”

Judge Zainey described his 2002 White House interview, which was required for him to become a judge. One of his interviewers formerly worked under the late supreme court justice, Antonin Scalia, while the other was a staunch advocate for the death penalty.

“I was a bit concerned going into this interview because I had actually defended criminal cases during my time as an attorney. I met with my congressman before the interview and told him that I was afraid that I was too liberal for them, and he said to me, ‘Jay, you are too liberal for them.’”

Judge Zainey later stated that toward the end of his interview, he confronted his interviewers about labeling him a liberal and said, “You know, whether a person has a label: liberal or conservative, republican or democrat, prosecutor or defense lawyer, all these labels have one thing in common.” When his interviewers asked him what it was, Zainey said, “The pursuit of Justice,” to which they responded, “good answer.”

Judge Zainey’s final remarks of the night were on the rule of law. He described an ordeal that took place during Hurricane Katrina: 96 Orleans Parish female inmates were evacuated to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, or Angola, as it is infamously known.

“The women alleged that their jail sentences had already elapsed, but they were still in the state penitentiary. After conducting a hearing and finding many of these inmates’ records were destroyed, I was able to find out 67 of them had, indeed, served their time. I had a problem though: I knew after ordering these inmates to be released, they would have no way to contact their families and had no homes in New Orleans to return to. They didn’t even have any clothes, other than the orange prison jumpsuits they had on.”

Judge Zainey ordered the inmates’ releases; their lawyers provided them with new clothes, and Angola provided their bus transportation to a shelter in Texas. Zainey said this shows that the rule of law was upheld, even in the face of chaos, and that is what the rule of law is all about.

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Judge Jay C. Zainey gives presidential distinguished lecture