Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why did Judge Friendly kill himself?

I wondered this as I read the landmark but somewhat banal case Basic Inc. v. Levinson. I found this piece by Paul Gewirtz on the interwebs.

But there are also reasons to think that the subject has a place in
the public reflections about Judge Friendly. Presumptively, the manner
of his death was continuous with his life - indeed, it was a part
of his life. I do not say that suicide is heroic, but it is not by definition
an embarrassment. It can be expressive of a deeply rational man.
Judge Friendly was eighty-two years old, with a life of enormous
achievement behind him. His wife of fifty-four years had died a year
earlier, and he had become virtually blind. His life had been one of
reason and mind - reading, thinking, and writing - realms of
activity that he controlled. (He had always done his own work,
former law clerk Bruce Ackerman reported. For such a man -
terribly diminished by untransformable losses, and for whom life had
always meant excellences on his own terms - suicide could become
a rational choice. Planned weeks ahead, as I am told it was, Henry
Friendly's death may well have been the product of the same deliberate,
controlling, and reasoning self that guided the rest of his life,
a product of some of the same attributes that yielded his achievements.

(footnote omitted)

Judge Friendly had an unusual way of choosing his law clerks. He called his former clerks on the faculties of Harvard and Yale Law Schools, and perhaps a few others, and asked them to recommend some of their best students to the post, and all this happened almost secretly. There might have been an index card posted on a bulletin board somewhere. I was not among those called. The professors made some (what I regarded as) peculiar choices. I would have liked to have been his clerk, although I was perhaps in some senses not well qualified. I agree he was a great judge. As far as I know, nobody from my year at Yale was chosen, though I could be wrong about this.


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