Federal judge Rudy Ruiz ’98 returned to his high school alma mater to address judicial and legal ethics as the opening speaker in the 2023-24 Holzman Center of Applied Ethics Speaker Series at the Lewis Family Auditorium on Oct. 19. Ruiz, in his fifth year as a United States District Judge for the Southern District of Florida, discussed a range of legal topics, emphasizing to students that despite the current political climate, the virtues of respect, humility, and civility remain integral for society and institutions to flourish.
“You can fight for your position in the courtroom, but you need to maintain a level of respect for your opponent,” he said. “It’s important to strike a balance. We have become unbelievably fractured as a society and hyper-partisan. It’s the number one problem we have today: a breakdown of civil discourse.”
Vigorous but courteous discussions characterized his years at RE, Ruiz recalled, noting that as the child of Cuban refugees, he benefited greatly from hearing classmates with other backgrounds and perspectives. “When I was a student here, that was the blessing of coming to a place like this,” he said. “It equipped me with the ability to have real debate, a real dialogue.”
Ruiz was introduced by Associate Head of School John A. King Jr., who directs the Holzman Center and moderated the discussion. At the conclusion of the event in the auditorium, Ruiz made his way to the Ransom Cottage to answer the questions of a small group of students. Last spring, on the 25th anniversary of RE’s Robert Segall ’82 Leadership Award, Ruiz – the very first student to win the prestigious award – joined Howard Srebnick ’82 to present the 2023 award to Victor Perez ’23.
“It’s good to be back here at Ransom Everglades,” Ruiz said. “I am certainly a proud alum … My journey started here. This really was such an amazing place for me educationally and in terms of relationship-building … The relationships you foster help you later in life in ways you really can’t imagine.”
Prior to his tenure on the federal bench, Ruiz served as a judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida after serving as an Assistant County Attorney with the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office and working as a transactional lawyer in private practice. He currently serves as the vice chair of the advisory board for the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, where he studied as an undergraduate before heading to law school at Georgetown University.
Ruiz noted that recent calls for the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code to increase transparency would certainly help combat the erosion of public trust in the judiciary. He urged students to always be mindful of the consequences caused by the potential appearance of impropriety as they make their way in the world. “It’s a very big concern for all of us in the judiciary,” he said. “It’s starting to be perceived that we are partisan actors in robes … The optics matter.”
He also addressed the independence of judges and the significance of lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary. Ruiz was appointed twice by then-Governor now Senator Rick Scott to the state bench before being nominated by former President Donald Trump. The U.S. Senate confirmed Ruiz by a vote of 90-8.
He emphasized to the students that “your oath is not to a senator or a president; your oath is to the Constitution. And you have an obligation to remain impartial. You’re not here for any one person or party, you are here for your country … We have to do what’s right under the laws of the United States.”
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.