Adjunct professor, alumnus appointed chief judge of 3rd U.S. Circuit Court

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — U.S Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith, alumnus, adjunct professor of law, and chair of the Board of Advisers at Penn State Law, will become the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on Oct 1.

Smith has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which covers Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, since 2002, following his appointment by President George W. Bush. Prior to that position, he served for 14 years — including almost two years as chief judge — on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, a position to which he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

In preparation for this appointment, Smith has been in a transitioning pattern for several weeks. On Sept. 30, he will officially end a three-year term as chair of the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee, where he led a highly successful national initiative to reduce space used by the federal court system by 3 percent over five years. As chief judge of the 3rd Circuit, Smith’s responsibilities will still include sitting on three-judge panels that hear and decide appeals, in addition to overseeing all other various court administrative offices. Smith also participates in organized bar activities and is a member of the Third Circuit Lawyers Advisory Committee. The chief judge role also includes frequent speaking invitations and the encouragement to participate in legal education.

Smith certainly takes seriously the participation in the advancement of legal education. He has been an adjunct professor at Penn State Law for eight years, where he teaches the Class Actions Seminar. In addition to his role as chair of the Penn State Law Board of Advisers, he is actively engaged with law students and advancing the law school. 

"I believe it is important to lend a hand any way I can in order to help further the mission of the law school,” Smith said.

Smith very much enjoys the case work he is involved in on the 3rd Circuit, and the processes of both studying a case and deciding a case. While he admits that the Court of Appeals process of deciding by three-judge panels is very different than that used by the District Courts, where a single judge makes the decision, he likes discussing the case with colleagues on the panel and finding common ground, as well as determining the right words for a judicial decision.

“The Court of Appeals is a constant intellectual challenge,” Smith said. “And the opportunity to teach has provided congruence between the study work of appellate cases and the pedagogy of a law professor. There are similarities in both positions.”

As for his legal legacy, he doesn’t give it much thought. He hopes his colleagues and the lawyers who appear before him view him as someone who decides each case based on its merits, and not on ideologies, politics or agenda.

“If they see me as motivated by proper concerns,” he stated, “I will be perfectly satisfied.”

Prior to joining the judiciary, Smith served as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County (Pennsylvania) from 1984 to 1988 and as Blair County’s district attorney from 1983 to 1984. He also served as a special assistant attorney general for Pennsylvania and assistant district attorney in Blair County. He was in private practice from 1976 to 1984 in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Smith graduated from the Dickinson School of Law, the predecessor to Penn State Law, in 1976.

Last Updated October 11, 2016