Russell Balikian's (‘09) approach to justice is simple: seek divine justice in a secular courtroom.
On Friday, Sept. 17, Balikian spoke to 37 Taylor university students and faculty about this and the U.S. Constitution, followed by a short Q&A.
Balikian was invited to Taylor for Constitution Day, brought about by a bill introduced to Congress to encourage education around the U.S. Constitution for all institutions that receive federal funding. The event was sponsored by Taylor’s history, global studies and political science (HGPS) department.
“Senator Robert Byrd successfully added the amendment to the federal spending bill,” said Kevin Johnson, department chair of the HGPS department, in his introduction of Balikian. “The Indiana Supreme Court in 2005 began offering Constitution Day programming with a wide variety of activities inside courtrooms and classrooms around the state. We are honoring Senator Byrd’s wishes today.”
Balikian’s lecture, titled “Overruled: The Constitution, Precedent, and the Supreme Court,” Walks through the roles of a federal judge to lay down the Constitution, and three approaches to covering erroneous precedent in Constitutional law.
Balikian believes that while the Constitution was not created perfectly, it has been designed to be able to correct itself and to change with the times. However, the core of it is still a great piece of law, and Balikian invited his audience to look at it from an originalist view for the duration of the lecture.
Balikian gave this lecture after his experience in Washington D.C. as a Constitutional law lawyer that worked on some high-profile cases.
“Mr. Balikian has significant experience litigating high-stakes appeals in the Supreme Court, D.C. Circuit, and other courts across a wide variety of subject-matter areas,” his website biography says. “He has been involved in some of the most important appellate and administrative-law cases in recent years, including litigation over the FCC’s 2015 net-neutrality order, the Sprint-T-Mobile merger, the Dakota Access pipeline, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s debt-restructuring efforts, and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”
Freshman Sara Khalaj attended the lecture after studying the supreme court in high school and doing additional research on her own time. Balikian’s experience was visible in the event for her.
“I thought that Mr. Balikian’s presentation was extremely informative,” Khalaj said. “I came away from the experience much more knowledgeable about the Supreme Court, it’s role, and the role precedents play in our judicial system.”
Balikian has also served as a law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas. His time with Thomas is a highlight of his career, and he feels the personal mentorship Thomas offered him was equally as valuable as what he learned about the law.
Thomas’ approach to overruling precedent was one of the three highlighted in Balikian’s talk, and he expressed his appreciation of how recent supreme court justices have returned to simply upholding the existing Constitution, instead of creating new law through their interpretation.
“Seeing Christians in law, Christians in policy, and being in D.C. thinking through deep-level issues of worldview and how Scripture bears on matters of public policy was a great experience,” Balikian said.
Balikain feels greatly that his passion and calling for law comes out of his passion for his just God, and sees how it extends to all areas of his life.
Balikian is a Tayor graduate, where he initially came in as a biblical literature major. However, while at Taylor, he felt that he was called to law as well, and added a political science major. He later graduated from Yale Law school, where he was co-editor in chief of Yale Law and Policy Review. In his free time, he is an elder in his church, and is continuing to be mindful of balancing his work life between his family and spiritual life as his kids grow up.
“There’s actually quite a bit of overlap between being an attorney and being a pastor,” Balikian said in an interview with Taylor University in 2020. “You’re often counseling someone through a problem they’re going through and you’re doing it in accordance with an authoritative text. You’re seeking to make peace and resolve issues.”
Balkin concluded the event by encouraging students to use their abilities to help the world and gave them guidance in implementing it. He encourages them to look into being a judge or a lawyer if they have a sense for justice and a respect for the law or to be a politician if they want to make change. Ultimately, he sees a place and a calling for everyone in D.C.
Khalaj enjoyed all of the areas covered, but was left still curious about Balikian’s world in D.C.
“While appreciative of the time and effort Mr. Balikian put into making and giving his presentation, I was hoping for a bit more insight into his thoughts on the future of the court and the topic in general,” Khalaj said.