A portrait of a judge as wise as he was worldly emerged from the Owen J. Roberts Lecture in Constitutional Law last April. In the lecture, Judge Michael Boudin commemorated the judicial approach of a prior Roberts Lecture speaker: Judge Henry Friendly.
Friendly, who sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for fifteen years, was considered one of finest judges of his era. Judge Boudin clerked for Friendly and remained friends with him for the rest of his life.
Judge Boudin said his mentor's opinions are still among "the gold standards of American appellate judging."
Accounting for his extraordinarily well-reasoned opinions, Judge Boudin said Friendly drew on years of lawyering at private firms and service as general counsel and vice president to Pan American World Airways, both of which made him keenly aware of "how the world worked." But, he added, Friendly was also endowed with extraordinary legal acumen and analytical skills, evident from his "breathtaking" academic record at Harvard.
"It was the marriage of these very powerful intellectual gifts with his lived experience that accounts for the character and quality of his decisions," Judge Boudin said.
"A sense of the practical – not just the abstract doctrine, but what it was going to produce, what the consequences were going to be – infused the judge's persona."
That attitude was apparent, Judge Boudin recalled, in a case where the Interstate Commerce Commission accused a company of operating a motor carrier service without a certificate. Rather than employing drivers, this company found private individuals needing a ride somewhere to drive clients' cars. Though he upheld the ICC's claim, Friendly also admired the innovative spirit and usefulness of the company in his ruling, and noted that the ICC would have no reason to turn down the company's application for a certificate.
Friendly's ability to "reconcile the law with justice, or a more fair and reasonable result," was, according to Judge Boudin, what made his opinions so widely compelling.
"The fact that he wrote with wit and scholarship was part of what gave his opinions carrying force, but the truth is that the ultimate power in them lies in their willingness to grapple with whatever the underlying issue was," Judge Boudin said.
Key to Friendly's judicial praxis was his meticulous consideration of any relevant precedents. "Like an archeologist, he could excavate down to prior versions of a statute and relate them to the present version, in aid of interpreting it," Judge Boudin recalled. "He enjoyed identifying the real-world problem that had led to the statute, and trying to understand the compromises that had been made to reach it."
Where did Friendly acquire his interest in the background circumstances of his cases, his interpretive skills and consideration of real-world consequences? Judge Boudin offered one clue: Friendly studied history as an undergraduate, he said, and seemed "always half in love with that calling."