On the afternoon of Friday, May 19, 2006, Judge Edward R. Becker (3d Cir.) passed away. As noted by Howard Bashman, Judge Becker was "a giant of the law and a wonderful man." In the words of Professor Orin Kerr, Judge Becker was "brilliant, fair, tremendously thoughtful, and always scholarly. A real mensch."
Judge Becker was one of the federal judiciary's most distinguished and most colorful members. He will be deeply missed -- especially by his former law clerks, in whom he inspired tremendous devotion.
The New York Times obituary can be accessed here. Some excerpts:
Edward R. Becker, a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and a highly respected jurist admired for his powerful decisions and personal humility, died Friday afternoon at his home in northeast Philadelphia, where he had lived almost all his life. He was 73.
The cause was prostate cancer, said his executive assistant of 25 years, Trish Kowalski...
[Senator Arlen] Specter called Judge Becker the "101st senator" for the power that his rulings had in shaping federal law. His written opinions, which bore no political stamp, often guided the Supreme Court and Congress and shaped new law on issues including the reliability of scientific evidence and the rationale for class-action suits....
He always rode the elevated train from his home in the Frankford section of the city to the courthouse on Market Street. He was known for a lack of grandiosity rarely found in federal court. A former clerk, Marci A. Hamilton, now of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, once observed that "the judge greets his new clerks on their first day with a single rule: 'no deference.' "...
[Judge Becker] had an ability to play almost any song by ear, and he became the unofficial pianist for the Supreme Court at their periodic sing-alongs. "I've never heard anyone call for a tune the judge didn't know," Justice David H. Souter said.
Here are more fun facts and interesting tidbits about Judge Edward Becker:
1. He loved the intellectual challenge of the law -- as one can tell from his long, scholarly, footnote-laden opinions -- and he loved spending time with his clerks. In years past, he would go out for late-night Chinese food with them, where they would engage in spirited debate about cases and issues.
2. Judge Becker was a famously aggressive, sometimes cantankerous questioner of attorneys at oral argument. He always enjoyed the intellectual sparring of oral argument -- unlike many other judges, who sometimes tire of it after years on the bench -- and he kept lawyers on their toes.
On one occasion, an attorney -- let's call her "Sarah Cantori" -- was propounding a theory of jurisdiction that Judge Becker viewed as insufficiently rigorous. He asked her, eyebrow arched: "Isn't this just the 'Cantori Gestalt Theory' of federal jurisdiction?"
3. Judge Becker could be tough; but he was also compassionate. He had a remarkable memory for personal details about people, perhaps developed during his time in politics.
On one occasion, an attorney whose wife had passed away some time ago appeared for argument before Judge Becker. It was the first time Judge Becker had seen the attorney since his wife's passing, and Judge Becker offered his condolences -- even though over a year had passed since her death.
4. Judge Becker was a feeder judge, and not a passive one. He had personal friendships with several of the justices (e.g., Justice Breyer), and he would get on the horn to promote his clerks to them.
Finally, here are a few additional links (gavel bang: How Appealing):
--the death notice for Judge Becker;
--the Philadelphia Inquirer obituary (noting his nickname, "the King of Footnotes");
--the Philadelphia Daily News obituary (quoting Ann Meredith, a friend of Judge Becker: "He could so easily live in an elitist world. Instead he tromps around in shabby clothes, a ridiculous coat that he has some Yiddish word for and a cabdriver hat.... He answers his own phone a lot. He's always accessible.").
Article III Groupie can confirm this last fact. Back when she was applying for clerkships, she called Judge Becker's chambers to ask some minor logistical question about submitting her materials. You can imagine her surprise -- and terror! -- when Judge Becker answered the chambers phone.
A3G could barely speak, and she can't remember much about the conversation. All she can recall is that Judge Becker emphasized strict adherence to the hiring timetable in effect at the time (even if other judges were less meticulous).