Susan Bolton, Senior U.S. District Judge and law alumna, reflects on 28 years behind the bench

Bolton has handled some of the most complex cases to come before the court

By Hayley Bruce

Iowa Law alumna Susan Bolton’s legal career started with a drive to Arizona.

Though she initially attended the University of Iowa to finish her undergraduate degree because her husband was working on his PhD there, Bolton went on to earn her JD at the UI College of Law in 1975 after participating in what was then an accelerated 27-month JD program.

But, she had already accepted a judicial clerkship with Judge Laurance T. Wren with the Arizona Court of Appeals when she was scheduled to be sworn in as an attorney at the Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines.

“My husband and I had already packed up, and we had our dog and two cats in the car because we were on our way to Arizona right after the ceremony,” Bolton says. “He had to stay in the car because of our pets. I was sworn in, I changed, and we were off – it was quite a momentous occasion.”

After working as a law clerk for the Court of Appeals (1975-77), Bolton went in to private practice in Phoenix, Arizona for 12 years before serving on the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County (1989-2000). She was then nominated to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Arizona by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Though it’s been 28 years since she made the transition from lawyer to judge, Bolton says it was the right move for her at the time, and that she’s equally enjoyed her move to federal court.

“One of the nice things about the move to the federal judiciary was getting into this small collegial group,” Bolton says, adding that, by contrast, the Maricopa County Superior Court is one of the largest trial courts in the U.S., with 96 judges and numerous commissioners.

While serving on the federal bench, Bolton has presided over a number of complex cases that have drawn both local and national media attention. But, unquestionably, the case that garnered the most publicity was when she presided over the Arizona Immigration Statute S.B. 1070, a state law that intended to increase the power of local law enforcement who wished to enforce federal immigration laws.

“I had presided over cases that received local publicity over the years, but this was the first time that I had ever been involved in a case where there was intense national interest and intense feelings on both sides of the issue,” says Bolton, adding that the case also occurred within a very concentrated period of time because the statute needed to be ruled on before it went into effect. “The summer of 2010 is a summer I won’t ever forget.”

Bolton took senior status last year, which has allowed her to reduce her caseload and play a more active role as chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities. As she reflects on her time as a student at Iowa Law, she says she often wonders why she rushed through her studies, and emphasized the important role lawyers continue to play in society.
 
“Students and graduates should always try to remember why they went to law school, and what it was they originally intended to accomplish after they were lawyers because it can be hard in the day to day practice of law to remember and not get discouraged,” Bolton says. “It really is a noble profession. Lawyers do so much in the legal community and in the broader community. Many important social changes in the U.S. have happened because of lawyers.”

Bolton took senior status last year, which has allowed her to reduce her caseload and play a more active role as chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities. As she reflects on her time as a student at Iowa Law, she says she often wonders why she rushed through her studies, and emphasized the important role lawyers continue to play in society.
 
“Students and graduates should always try to remember why they went to law school, and what it was they originally intended to accomplish after they were lawyers because it can be hard in the day to day practice of law to remember and not get discouraged,” Bolton says. “It really is a noble profession. Lawyers do so much in the legal community and in the broader community. Many important social changes in the U.S. have happened because of lawyers.”
 

The Honorable Susan Bolton
Class of 1975
United States District Court, District of Arizona
After law school:
Law Clerk, Judge Laurance T. Wren, Arizona Court of Appeals
Private practice, Phoenix, Arizona
Arizona Superior Court, Maricopa County



 

 

Judge Bolton