“Blind Justice”: Blindness And The Bench

(WLNS) – Richard Bernstein, 41, has been blind since birth. After winning the election, an assistant at his family’s Detroit-area law firm began reading briefs to him for mid-January arguments, including a medical marijuana case and a labor dispute covering thousands of state employees.

“It would be much easier if I could read and write like everyone else, but that’s not how I was created,” Bernstein said. “No question, it requires a lot more work, but the flip side is it requires you to operate at the highest level of preparedness. … This is what I’ve done my entire life. This goes all the way back to grade school for me.”

Michigan has never had a blind judge on its highest court, and few other states have. In Missouri, Justice Richard Teitelman has been legally blind since age 13.

According to an online profile, Richard B. (Rick) Teitelman is a justice on the Missouri Supreme Court. He was appointed to the Court in February 2002 by Governor Bob Holden, and retained by voters in 2004; his current term ends in 2016.

Teitleman uses the same strategy Bernstein does to prepare for cases. “With respect to overcoming obstacles due to being legally blind, I have a compensation — a very good memory. My law clerks read briefs and other materials to me, and I remember most of what they read to me,” says Justice Teitleman.

Judge David Tatel, who is blind, since October 1994 sits on a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. Tatel has been blind since 1972 due to retinitis pigmentosa.

Tatel has Michigan ties. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from the University of Chicago. Following law school, he served as an instructor at the University of Michigan Law School and then joined Sidney Austin in Chicago. Tatel served in a number of governmental positions during the 1970s. Returning to private practice in 1979, Tatel joined the law firm Hogan & Hartson, where he founded and headed the firm’s education practice until his appointment to the D.C. Circuit. While on sabbatical from Hogan and Hartson, Tatel spent a year as a lecturer at Stanford Law School.

Judge Tatel is no stranger to controversial cases. Most recently, in an opinion written by Judge David Tatel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the network neutrality rules contradicted a previous FCC decision that put broadband companies beyond its regulatory reach.
“Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers,” Tatel wrote, “the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.”

You can learn more about Justice Bernstein and his life on Michigan’s highest court tonight on “Blind Justice”, a 6 News special report with Jane Aldrich on 6 News at 6.

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