On the Other Hand...
The judicial temperament, in private.
Feb 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 23 • By G. EDWARD WHITE
Learned Hand, whose last year of judicial service was 1961, may be poised on the edge of obscurity, but Ronald Dworkin’s foreword to this volume serves as a reminder that many of Hand’s clerks ended up occupying very distinguished positions in the legal profession. A review of Hand’s opinions on the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, and on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will reveal some marvelous performances; though, as with all judges whose tenures took place in past eras, opinions gradually lose their precedential weight, and a selective treatment of opinions in contemporary law school casebooks can distort impressions of a judicial career.
Fortunately, in some instances, collections of letters can serve to revive interest in a judge as an erudite observer of human affairs. But any list of American judges who wrote and received interesting letters would be a short one, and there have been precious few collections of judicial correspondences. Joseph Story’s son published a life of his father that included several letters, some of them quite revealing. Roger Taney wrote regularly to family members, although those letters have not been published. Samuel Miller wrote numerous letters about his work on the Court, mainly to his brother-in-law. Those letters have regularly been utilized by scholars, but remain unpublished. Louis Brandeis had several “conversations” with Felix Frankfurter during Brandeis’s tenure on the Court; Frankfurter made notes of the conversations, and they were subsequently published.
Judge Learned Hand (center) is honored for 50 years' service on the federal bench.
Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images
Three additional individuals, intimate friends of Hand, have their correspondence featured: the art historian Bernard Berenson, the political columnist Walter Lippmann, and Frankfurter. The correspondence between Frankfurter and Hand began in 1911 and continued, without much interruption, for the next 50 years.