Paul Mishkin, an influential and farsighted scholar who was a member of the Penn Law faculty from 1951 to 1975, died on June 26 at the age of 82.
“Paul was one of the talented, dynamic young people who came to the Law School after the Second World War and helped make Penn a nationally significant law school,” said Professor Howard Lesnick. Mishkin joined the faculty immediately after graduating from Columbia Law School.
An expert on the federal court system, Mishkin published major articles that are still fundamental works for contemporary scholars. In his writing, he articulated original and challenging insights into the meaning and purpose of the Constitution’s allocation of authority between state and federal courts. Curtis Reitz, C’51, L’56, an emeritus Penn Law professor, recalled that, with other colleagues, although they didn’t always agree, the give-and-take with Mishkin on the subject of federal courts was extraordinary.
Mishkin co-authored two major teaching books, On Law in Courts, a pioneering contribution to the first-year curriculum, and The Federal Courts and the Federal System, and served on the U.S. Permanent Committee for the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise, a comprehensive survey of the development of the Supreme Court.
He also participated in a wide range of constitutional litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1978, Mishkin acted as a special counsel for the Regents of the University of California before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Bakke case in which the court ruled that race was a legitimate factor in school admissions but the use of inflexible quotas was not. He was also reported to have been on President Gerald Ford’s short list of Supreme Court appointments.
A popular teacher, Mishkin was revered for his brilliance as much as his patience.
Penn Law professor Alan Lerner, W’62, L’65, a former student of Mishkin’s, said that Mishkin had a profound effect on his teaching approach. Mishkin “never seemed to be fazed by anything that students did or said in class, and on one occasion I inadvertently tested his calm,” recalled Lerner. Mishkin was lecturing on the issue of whether state criminal prosecutions should be removable to federal courts, particularly when local courts were not likely to protect a defendant’s federal civil rights.
Responding to a student comment, Mishkin said, “Given the supremacy clause you can’t simply assume that state courts won’t protect the federal civil rights of black defendants or civil rights workers.”
Lerner had spent the previous summer working on the cases of African-American and white civil rights workers who had been arrested on bogus charges. At some point, Lerner blurted out a contradictory comment and expected Mishkin to reprimand him.
“Paul, however, didn’t bat an eye,” said Lerner. He calmly acknowledged Lerner’s observation and went on to give a measured explanation of the issue at hand.
“While I didn’t appreciate the answer at the time, I did very much appreciate his patient and respectful response to my outburst,” said Lerner. As a professor today, Lerner has tried to keep that experience in mind, and reacts accordingly to student comments.
Mishkin, reputedly a tough and demanding teacher in the classroom, was also a mentor who was generous with his time and knowledge towards young faculty. “He was a wonderfully supportive colleague when you talked about scholarship and he was one of those who taught me how to write, teach and be an academic,” said Jim Strazzella, L’64, a former student of Mishkin’s and later a colleague when he joined the faculty and was vice dean.
After teaching for 22 years at Penn Law, Mishkin joined the U.C. Berkeley, Boalt faculty in 1973.
Pre-deceased by his wife Milli, he is survived by his son, Jonathan Westover.