Alumni Judges Attend Sesquicentennial Dinner at Morgan Library


Event at Morgan Library & Museum Honors Law School’s Strong Ties To Judiciary
February 29, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Over the past 150 years, hundreds of Columbia Law School alumni have gone on to serve as judges at every level of the state and federal systems; six became U.S. Supreme Court justices. That service continues to this day, with more than 300 alumni currently serving as judges across the country and around the world, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59.
To honor the long history of Columbia alumni serving at all levels of the judiciary — from clerk to Supreme Court Justice — more than 50 alumni who are judges showed up last night at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan for a celebratory dinner, one of the many events scheduled in 2008 to mark Columbia Law School’s sesquicentennial.
Thomas W. Merrill, the Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law, gave a keynote address, highlighting Columbia University’s long and close relationship with the judiciary, starting with James Kent, hired in 1793 as the first professor of law at the university, well before the Law School itself was founded. In 1798, Gov. John Jay named Kent to the New York Supreme Court.
Merrill’s speech also explored the influence of Columbia Law School alumni who played oversized roles as judges in their time, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Charles Evans Hughes, Benjamin Cardozo and Harlan Fiske Stone. In addition, Merrill addressed judicial concerns about the shifting focus of curricula at American law schools.
The celebration began with a cocktail reception in J.P. Morgan’s library and his study. The library features two floors of rare leather-bound books, from a copy of the Gutenberg Bible to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book in French. The study features Morgan’s old desk, as well as an intricately carved wood coffered ceiling, which Morgan had imported from Venice when the building was constructed around 1906. The dinner was held in the recently constructed Gilbert Court, part of the museum’s 2006 expansion designed by architect Renzo Piano.
Nearly 60 Columbia Law School alumni who went on to judgeships at state and federal levels attended the event, representing graduating classes from the 1940s through the 1990s. They mingled with some current Law School students and faculty, as well as Dean David Schizer.
During his keynote honoring the tradition of Columbia’s connection to the judiciary, Merrill said that Kent “had a tremendous influence on the development of 19th century American jurisprudence. He stressed the importance of securing property and contract rights from legislative interference.
“These ideas,” Merrill said, “helped underwrite the explosive economic growth the United States experienced throughout the century.”
Merrill focused the bulk of his talk on Charles Evans Hughes, Benjamin Cardozo and Harlan Fiske Stone, who served in the middle decades of the twentieth century. All three were educated at Columbia Law School, all three spent formative years in private practice in New York City, and all three became famous chief judges – Hughes and Stone on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Cardozo on the New York Court of Appeals.
“Perhaps most importantly, all three played significant roles in navigating the transition from nineteenth century jurisprudence – the jurisprudence of James Kent centered on the protection of property rights - to twentieth century jurisprudence, with its emphasis on judicial protection of political and civil rights,” said Merrill, an expert on the U.S. Supreme Court and property law.
Merrill closed his speech with a discussion of the curricula in American law schools today, and concerns about the trends voiced by practicing lawyers and judges.
“One often hears grousing about how law schools have drifted away from the concerns that occupy judges and practicing lawyers,” Merrill said. “This is often encapsulated by the exasperated comment that when one picks up a random law review, few of the articles seem to speak to issues that occupy the bench and bar.
“At least in the case of Columbia, this criticism is misplaced,” Merrill said. “Columbia has not abandoned the traditional concerns of the bench and bar. What has happened is that the study of the law has grown explosively, both in terms of subject matter covered and the intellectual tools used to try to make sense of it all.
“But the core remains,” Merrill said. “There are probably as many faculty at Columbia today teaching subjects that would have been familiar to Hughes, Cardozo and Stone as there were when they attended Columbia. And these faculty members are producing as much or more scholarship that speaks to the types of concerns that these Columbia greats struggled with on the bench.
“I therefore propose a toast,” Merrill concluded. “Hail Columbia! Hail to Columbia’s judges! Hail to their long, close and continuing relationship!”
Last night’s dinner was one in a series of events scheduled through the year to mark the Law School’s sesquicentennial. To learn about other events, click here. For a timeline marking the history of Columbia Law School, click here.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.