Benjamin Kaplan ’33

August 18, 2010

Summer 2011

Benjamin Kaplan ’33 was a distinguished justice on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and a revered professor at Harvard Law School. He passed away on August 18, 2010, at the age of 99.

Born in the South Bronx, Kaplan began his undergraduate studies at The City College of New York at the age of 14. After graduating in 1929, he enrolled at Columbia
Law School.

Kaplan began his legal career at Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst in 1934. During World War II, he joined the Army and served as assistant to the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. Kaplan’s work on the groundbreaking case earned him a Bronze Star.

After the war, Kaplan became a faculty member at Harvard Law School, where he taught an array of legendary jurists, including Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59 (who attended Harvard briefly before enrolling at Columbia Law School). “He was the greatest teacher I ever had,’’ Ginsburg told The Boston Globe. “He knew his subject matter inside and out. He wasn’t telling us things; he had us thinking all the time. I came to love civil procedure because of Ben Kaplan.’’

In 1972, Massachusetts Governor Francis W. Sargent appointed Kaplan to serve as a justice on the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Kaplan spent the next decade hearing cases regarding the legality of abortion and the death penalty, among other issues. When he reached the age of 70, the mandatory retirement age, Kaplan joined the Massachusetts Appeals Court, where he continued writing opinions into his 90s.

Kaplan’s wife, Felicia Lamport, passed away in 1999. He is survived by his son, Jim; his daughter, Nancy Mansbach; four grandsons; as well as five great-grandchildren.