Barbara A.S. Grieco

2016 Temple Bar Scholar Report

My experiences as a Temple Bar scholar will mold my practice for the rest of my legal career and I cannot recommend the program more highly. In our first week as Temple Bar Scholars, we attended a ceremony in Westminster Abbey honoring the opening of the legal year. The ceremony, which dates back hundreds of years, brought together a multitude of British judges and lawyers—and it set the tone for the rest of our stay in London. 

The pomp and circumstance of the opening of the legal year was truly a unique sight to behold. Equally incredible, however, was the access the Temple Bar Scholars had to leading barristers and judges. We met privately with several Justices of the U.K. Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Whales, the Master of the Rolls, leaders of COMBAR, and assorted judges from the commercial bench and criminal benches, among others. Each person with whom we met provided unique insight into the operation, and challenges, of the British legal system. Our discussions were both frank and fascinating. The opportunity to meet these leaders in the law would have been amazing; the chance to sit down and talk with them about substantive legal issues was truly incredible.

Our trip to London coincided with some exceptional and unsettling world events, including the British voters’ decision to leave the European Union. That vote unearthed a unique and pressing question of British constitutional law, namely, whether the vote itself would be sufficient authority by which the Prime Minister could trigger an exit from the EU, or whether a separate vote of Parliament would be required. To answer this question, British lawyers had to evaluate the meaning of Britain’s unwritten constitution. Having spent years studying the American constitution, I was baffled by the notion of an unwritten constitution. How could the English legal system, to which our own legal system owes so much, faithfully protect its citizens’ most important liberties when no central document even catalogued them? How do judges answer important questions about the scope of their own authority, or Parliament’s, without any written guidance on the separation of powers? In short, when faced with important questions of constitutional law, how do judges evaluate a constitution with no text from which to begin? After a month in London, I remain of the view that constitutional protections are best preserved when they are written down. But now, after so many conversations on the meaning of the common law and its role in British legal society, I also have a newfound respect for the British legal system’s ability to guard liberty in reliance on unwritten rules and common law.      

As I indicated, we had many frank and enlightening discussions on the history, tradition, and meaning of British constitutional law. Perhaps the most fascinating of those discussions occurred with Justices of the U.K. Supreme Court. The final week of our program offered the opportunity to be in chambers with U.K. Supreme Court Justices, and to discuss cases with them. This experience provided me great insight into the similarities and differences in our respective supreme courts. Different, of course, are the questions the Justices face (and, often, their answers to those questions). But both courts demonstrate a dedication to the law and commitment to answering important legal questions with care and precision; a similarity that is both important and encouraging. As both Britain and America continue to encounter challenging legal and political questions, I will have a newfound respect for the role of the courts both at home and abroad.

Barbara A.S. Grieco is law clerk to Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Stanford Journal of Law, Business, and Finance and president of the Federalist Society. Grieco received prizes for outstanding performance in Administrative Law and her Supreme Court Simulation Seminar. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics and political science with honors from Wake Forest University. Between college and law school, Grieco worked in the White House Counsel’s Office; she has clerked in the chambers of Judge Richard Sullivan, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and in the chambers of Judge Thomas B. Griffith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.