The federal judiciary recently lost two of its most distinguished members. One was a trial judge on the East Coast, and one was an appellate judge on the West Coast (as well as the nation’s longest-serving federal appellate judge).

Both were leading lights of the Article III judiciary. They will be deeply missed by their courts; their clerks, current and former; and their colleagues….

Judge James R. Browning

We first bring you news of the passing of Judge James R. Browning, a former chief judge and longtime member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which named its San Francisco courthouse in his honor. He was the nation’s longest-serving federal appellate judge, according to the Associated Press. He passed away on Saturday at the age of 93.

As reflected in the obituaries by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times, Judge Browning had an interesting life story and path to the bench. He was born in a tiny town in Montana, graduated first in his class at the Montana University Law School, worked for the Justice Department after graduation, and then served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning a Bronze Star.

Here’s more about Judge Browning’s path to the bench, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Judge Browning was appointed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, who had met him when, as the U.S. Supreme Court’s chief clerk, he held the Bible at Kennedy’s inauguration months earlier. He became the appeals court’s longest-serving judge before taking semi-retired senior status in 2000.

During his tenure as chief judge, from 1976 to 1988, Congress authorized 10 new appointees to the circuit by President Jimmy Carter, transforming its majority from Republican to Democratic and establishing a reputation it still maintains as a liberal stronghold in a largely conservative federal judiciary.

Conservatives joined by mining and timber companies have repeatedly urged Congress to split up the nine-state circuit, the nation’s largest federal appellate court. Judge Browning led successful efforts against a breakup.

The current leader of the Ninth Circuit, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, had these warm words for Judge Browning:

While we are always saddened by the loss of a valued colleague, the passing of Judge Browning truly marks the end of an era for the 9th Circuit. On the bench, Judge Browning was a distinguished jurist who cared deeply about achieving justice. In judicial governance, he was an innovative administrator, who cajoled the court into the computer age. As importantly, perhaps, he was a genuinely warm and caring human being, famous for the twinkle in his eye, who brightened the lives of everyone around him.

We thank Judge Browning for his many years of dedicated service to our nation. Although he was small in stature, standing about five-foot-two in height, he leaves big shoes to fill. May he rest in peace.

Meanwhile, we learned of more sad news this morning, from Dave Hoffman of Concurring Opinions:

From the federal courthouse comes the very sad news that Senior District Court Judge Louis Pollak has died. Judge Pollak, a jurisprudential giant, mentor to many, and former dean of both Yale and Penn Law Schools, served on the bench from 1978 until his death. He will be missed.

Judge Louis Pollak

There’s more about Judge Pollak’s passing in the Philadelphia Business Journal. He passed away yesterday at the age of 89. He served as a judge on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania bench for more than 30 years.

There are many paths to the federal bench. Compare Judge Browning’s life and career with Judge Pollak’s. Although both were appointed by Democratic presidents, both served in the Army in World War II, and both worked at the U.S. Supreme Court — Lou Pollak clerked for Justice Wiley Rutledge (the former boss of Justice John Paul Stevens) — in many ways their lives were quite different. Pollak was born on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, worlds away from small-town Montana; he had law in the family (his father defended the Scottsboro Boys); and he graduated from Harvard College and then Yale Law School.

After clerking, Louis Pollak joined Paul Weiss (which has a long and distinguished tradition of sending alums into public service). He obviously made a good impression there, because he ended up marrying founding partner Louis Weiss’s daughter, Katherine, in 1952.

In 1955, Pollak joined the faculty of his alma mater, Yale Law School. He served as dean of YLS from 1965 to 1970, and he remained on the faculty until 1974. He left for U. Penn. in 1974 and became Penn Law’s dean in 1975. But he didn’t hold the deanship for long: in 1978, he was appointed by President Carter to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

During his time on the bench, Judge Pollak continued to teach at Penn Law. In addition, he sent a number of his law clerks into Supreme Court clerkships over the years. As I noted back in a 2005 post on Underneath Their Robes, he “was, back in the day, that rara avis: a district court feeder.”

The current dean of Penn Law, Michael Fitts, had these words to say about Judge Pollak:

Despite all the public accolades, which are too numerous to mention, Lou was simply a beloved figure, deeply kind and thoughtful, beloved by his clerks, students and colleagues. So many members of our faculty and staff were his friends. The last time he taught at the Law School he received one of our teaching prizes. Last month we also named our new alumni public service award at the law school after Lou. It is a perfect tribute to his career — and the man.

Judge Pollak will be deeply missed. We send our sympathies and condolences to his family, his friends, his clerks, and those who were lucky enough to know him during his long and distinguished career and life.

Longest Serving Federal Appeals Judge Dies at 93 [ABA Journal]
Judge who led the Ninth circuit in expansive time dies [San Francisco Chronicle]
James R. Browning dies at 93; led 9th Circuit Court of Appeals [Los Angeles Times]
James Browning, longest-serving federal appellate judge, dies [Associated Press]
Louis Pollak (1922-2012) [Concurring Opinions]
Longtime Philadelphia federal judge Pollak dies [Philadelphia Business Journal]


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