FedSoc Blog

Harvard Hosts Panel on Legacy of Judge Henry Friendly


by Publius
Posted November 27, 2012, 3:41 PM

Harvard Law School yesterday announced:

A panel of distinguished judges and scholars gathered at Harvard Law School with author David Dorsen ’59 on Nov. 14 to discuss and celebrate his recent biography, “Henry Friendly: Greatest Judge of His Era.”

At the event, moderated by Professor Carol Steiker ’86—who is the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at HLS—Judges Michael Boudin ’64, Pierre Leval ’63, Jon Newman, and Richard Posner ’62, together with HLS Professors Todd Rakoff ’75 and Dan Coquillette ’71, joined Dorsen to share personal memories of Friendly and to discuss his accomplishments and legacy.

Dorsen said that writing the book was a “trial and error” process that involved reading every opinion, article and comment Friendly ever wrote, in addition to voting memos, briefs and other correspondence.

The introduction to the book was written by Posner, who is a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Posner said he is typically wary of judicial biographies because they are often written so long after the subject’s death that they lack personal recollections. But Dorsen, he said, was able to talk to people who knew Friendly, painting a “vivid picture” of his personality and conveying little-known details about the man, including both his depression and his “freewheeling character.”

"We all knew that Friendly was extraordinarily intelligent and such a great judge, but the biography conveys the fact that he was really a genius," said Posner.

Newman said the book was one of the saddest he had read, in part due to its description of Friendly’s estranged relationship with two of his three children. “This is an absolutely brilliant mind, one of the great contributors to our law, but an incomplete human being,” Newman said. . .

A video of the full panel can be found here.

In November 2005, at the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention, Judge Raymond Randolph delivered the Barbara K. Olson Memorial Lecture in which he praised Judge Friendly at length.  His talk began:

It is well-known that Henry J. Friendly was one of the greatest judges in our nation’s history. Along with Holmes and Brandeis and Learned Hand, he was certainly one of the most brilliant. What is not known is that in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade, Judge Friendly wrote an opinion in the first abortion-rights case ever filed in a federal court. No one knows this because his opinion was never published. I have a copy of the opinion and his papers are now at the Harvard Law School, awaiting indexing.

Tonight I want to make this opinion public for the first time. I hope you will agree with me that Judge Friendly’s draft of 35 years ago

is not only penetrating, but prophetic. I have read my copy many times over the years. Not because our court hears abortion cases. In my 15 years on the D.C. Circuit I have not sat on a single abortion-rights case. I have read and reread my private copy because it embodies such a clear and brilliant message about the proper role of the federal judiciary, because it is timeless, because it is a classic in legal literature.

After I share the opinion with you, I want to compare it with the Supreme Court’s performance, from Roe v. Wade to Lawrence v. Texas. . . .

You can read the full transcript here.

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