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Ronald Dworkin


Ronald Dworkin has died.

This incident reminded me of the following story:

A few years ago Dworkin wrote a remembrance of Learned Hand, for whom Dworkin clerked. At the time Dworkin was engaged, and he was keen to know if Hand was going to follow the policy of other judges in Hand’s circuit, which was to use their government-funded administrative budgets to give clerks a bonus in the form of a month’s extra salary at the end of the clerk’s term. So Dworkin inquired anxiously of the judge if he could expect to receive the bonus.

Hand explained to Dworkin that he disapproved of this practice, because he thought it was wasting taxpayer dollars, and that it was especially unjustifiable in his case, since Hand had already taken senior status, and was technically retired.

Shortly afterwards Dworkin sent Hand an invitation to his wedding. Hand’s reply included a personal check, equal to a month of Dworkin’s salary.

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  • scott

    Hand could write, which I was always grateful for as a law student required to parse impenetrable opinions. I forget what case it was, but one of his opinions (I think it was a tort case involving a poultry firm) began with the sentence “This is a case about chickens.” Period. I got a chuckle out of that, one of my rare ones from law school.

  • That’s too bad. He was still writing great stuff. The lawyers here may disagree, but his article about Bush v Gore (from January of 2001) was the first thing I read about it that made any sense:


  • Sherm

    Well timed post. I had a case on in the second circuit yesterday, and was checking out Hand’s bust in the courtroom and commented that he lived to 89.

  • oldster

    Wow–Dworkin clerked for Learned Hand.

    I had somehow put Hand several generations earlier than (as I now see from Wikipedia) he really was.

    Sad that Dworkin has died.

    • djw

      Yeah, me too. That seems to close a link to someone I associate with a much earlier time.

      • Sherm

        He was on the second circuit from 1924 until 1961. I had never realized that he was on the bench as recently as 1961 until yesterday.

  • chaed

    When I was an undergrad taking Constitutional law, I relied heavily on his book “Freedom’s Law” to write my term paper. If memory serves, I received an ‘A’.

    Now, that I teach high school civics, I still use some excerpts to try and explain why the charge of “judicial activism” is mostly B.S.

  • liberal

    I loved Dworkin for his attack on originalism.

  • psh

    Sad news. I didn’t even know that he was ill. I had the great fortune to sit in on seminars co-taught by Dworkin and Thomas Nagel while in law school. I found law school, in general, to be rather intellectually stultifying, but those seminars were always provocative and often inspiring. And, in my experience, for a man which such a grand reputation, Dworkin was always charming and treated people decently.

  • Joe

    In Freedom’s Law, a collection of essays, he includes a review of the seminal bio of Learned Hand, ending with this story. The collection is recommended.

    • Joe

      I enjoyed his writings overall, including in the NY Review of Books, though did not get into the weeds of his more deeper philosophical analysis. I think he assumed his premises a bit at times but like all good stuff of this genre, the journey was worth it, even if I didn’t agree with all what was said.

  • Rawls once introduced Dworkin at a lecture:

    “Dworkin was once described by some one high in the Reagan Administration as the most dangerous man in the United States after Justice Brennan. So with Brennan’s retirement, I am delighted to present to you the most dangerous man in America.”

    With his passing, I suppose that honor moves along to someone else now.

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