Since the U.S. Supreme Court first convened more than 220 years ago, there have been only 112 Justices. But that number seems large when compared with the number of individuals chosen to be the official Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court, a position created by Alexander J. Dallas in 1790 and held by only fifteen other individuals in US history. So when Cornell University alumnus Frank Wagner, the Court’s 15th Reporter, wanted to retire but remain involved in the dissemination of Court opinions, Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII) was eager to take him on.
Since stepping down in September 2010, Wagner has been working with Cornell Law School students on the previews they write of Supreme Court cases for the LII Supreme Court Bulletin. “I’m a proud Cornellian,” Wagner said, “and very supportive of the work done by the LII. They do a wonderful thing, making the Court’s output much more widely available, and for free. It’s grease for the wheels of democracy.” The Bulletin is a student-written and edited online publication that offers commentary on all Supreme Court cases before they are argued. Nearly 50,000 people read each issue.
“Having Frank on board has been a tremendous privilege,” said Thomas R. Bruce, director of the LII. “His editorial talents are formidable, verging on scary – and he’s a very gentle and effective teacher. He’s been a good friend to us over the years, and I’m delighted that he’s willing to share his skills and insight with us now.”
But Bruce and his LII colleagues weren’t the only ones happy to have Wagner on board. Lee Hollaar, Wagner’s longtime friend and University of Utah professor of computer science wanted to do something more. “I was happy to hear that Frank wanted to mentor young law students on the finer points of legal writing and editing,” Hollaar said, “and I thought, why not do something that honors Frank and rewards the LII student editors and writers who make the Bulletin possible?”
Hollaar offered financial support to create the Frank Wagner Prizes, a cash award given to the two best student-written case previews of the year. “I am flattered by Lee’s generosity and truly honored to have a prize named after me that so closely aligns with what is near to my heart,” Wagner said. “This year’s teams did an outstanding job, and it was a great pleasure to work with them.”
The prize winners, selected by Wagner himself, include Edan Shertzer, Colin O’Regan, and Eric Johnson, who won First Prize for their preview of Janus Capital Group, et al. v. First Derivative Traders. For second prize, Sarah Pruett, Melissa Koven, and Joanna Chen won for their preview of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v.Winn et al.
Christopher Maier, editor-in-chief of the LII Supreme Court Bulletin thought Wagner made the right decisions from tough competition. “The two winning teams did an outstanding job of distilling some fairly complex material and making it accessible,” Maier says.
Besides praising the winners, Wagner is enthusiastic about his work with all the Cornell students on the Bulletin. “One of the great pleasures of my job at the Court was working with the many talented young law clerks who came through its doors each year,” Wagner recalls. “They helped to keep me sharp, and I knew I would miss that when I retired. Thankfully, I get a taste of that same feeling from the Cornell Law students who work for the LII.”