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Clyde Summers' 60 Years of Labor Days 1 - 2 - 3

Thus began the leit motif of Summers’ career: civil liberties. From a lifetime of quiet accomplishments – and too unassuming to speak of any without prompting – Summers says his work on union democracy has given him the greatest satisfaction. With civil liberties in mind, in 1946 he began work on a thesis that unions should be “instruments of democracy” and its members “citizens” of the union entitled to particular rights. A piece he wrote for the ACLU on democracy in unions led to his chairmanship of a committee on union corruption in New York State in the 1950s. During similar national investigations, Summers sat on a committee called by then-Senator John F. Kennedy. With Summers writing most of the language, the committee produced the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act, which established standards for labor-management relations, protected employee and public rights in relation to unions, and called for the elimination and prevention of improper labor practices. He is pleased, he says, that “the ideas I generated in 1946 ultimately ended up as a statute.”

In the 1970s, Janice R. Bellace CW’71, L’74, Samuel A. Blank Professor of Legal Studies and Professor of Management at Wharton, consulted Summers for a study on the Landrum-Griffin Act. She had what students and colleagues might call a typical “Clyde Summers Experience.” Bellace described it this way in the January 1990 Penn Law Review: “[I found] a straightforward, entirely modest person who genuinely sought to understand what I wanted to study and who earnestly wanted to convey what the statute was meant to achieve. . . . I walked back to my office, astounded at how generous he had been with his time, how open he had been in the discussion, and how incredibly insightful his suggestions had been.”

Clyde Summers reflects on such intellectual exchanges often and has spent his career aspiring to their lasting effects. Feted by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review staff at their annual banquet in 1989, Summers offered this rare introspective glimpse: “Many times, at the end of a class, the end of a week, the end of a semester or when I sit at graduation, I ask myself, what have we taught these students? Have we taught them to be sensitive or only smart? Will society be better off for what they have learned, or worse off because their client’s interests run against society’s better interests? Have they increased their sense of responsibility for the world about them, and a sense of direction in dealing with it, or have we only made them more useful for the law firms to whom they sell themselves . . .

“[T]he life of the law is precedent . . . But the life of the lawyer should be something more, to search within themselves for answers which precedents cannot provide, to go beyond the question, ‘what does the case hold and why’, to ask what is good, what is just, what is kind.”

The Summers Sampler
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