This week's announcement that Chief Judge Monroe McKay of the 10th Circuit Court will start easing into retirement next Jan. 1 should remind Utahns of the great debt of gratitude they owe this outstanding jurist for his fine record of public service.
One measure of that record is the heavy workload carried by McKay in the 10th Circuit Court, a panel that has been handling almost twice as many cases as the average federal court.Another measure is the importance of the work done by the circuit court, which is to correct mistakes and right wrongs committed in lower courts.
But perhaps the most important measure is McKay's philosophy, which holds that the judiciary can provide the cement that keeps a diversified society together. Though this means the judiciary is by nature conservative, occasionally it must strike out boldly. The prime responsibility of a judge is to maintain his integrity. Such integrity is essential in a system where the courts may be called upon to tell the rest of the country they cannot deprive an individual of his or her rights.
This sensible philosophy helps explain Judge McKay's success. When the former Arizona attorney and Brigham Young University law professor was named to the circuit court in 1977, his nomination was quickly criticized because of the involvement of his brother, then U.S. Rep. Gunn McKay.
But, showing an ability to resolve differences, Monroe McKay quickly turned critics into supporters. Only a few days after blasting the selection, one leading opponent emerged from a meeting with McKay saying "This guy may turn out to be the best circuit judge we've got."
His sense of humor and humility helped, too. One Halloween, Prof. McKay arrived at his BYU class dressed as the "Great Pumpkin" and proceeded to give his lecture on contracts. Instead of accepting a lucrative partnership in a law firm, he joined the Peace Corps and served in Africa for two years.
This is the man who became the first former full-time faculty member of the BYU law school to hold both the position of appellate judge and chief judge in a federal court. Whatever impact he may yet make in an extremely active semi-retirement, Judge McKay will long be remembered with fondness and admiration.