The Daniel Moynihan United States Courthouse was where the branches of the professional life of Gerard Lynch ’75 intersected Wednesday as he was inducted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
There was the branch from Columbia Law School, where Lynch, then just 25, began his teaching career two years after graduating. At least 20 current and former professors were on hand to see Lynch formally take the oath of office.
There was also the branch from the federal court system, where Lynch has served 14 years, first as an esteemed criminal prosecutor and, most recently, nine years as a District Judge in the Southern District of New York.
A coterie of judges, law clerks, and aides sat up front for a special session in the ninth-floor ceremonial courtroom as Lynch officially became the Second Circuit’s 67th justice, as he was helped into his robes by his wife Karen Marisak and son Christopher.
Lynch said he was gratified for all the praise and good wishes that came with his new job, but vowed to keep it in perspective.
“I was taught early on that humility is one of the principal virtues and that one’s gifts, if any, were to be put to the use for the benefit of others and not savored as a source of unseemly pride,” Lynch told the packed courtroom. “This kind of upbringing is a pretty good inoculation against what my father would call getting a swell head, and what lawyers call black-robe disease.”
Lynch had served as a U.S. District Judge since 2000. He was nominated for his new post in April by President Obama, and was confirmed in the Senate on Sept. 17 by a 94-3 vote. So far, Lynch is the only Obama circuit court nominee confirmed.
Though he was formally sworn in Wednesday, Lynch has been hearing cases since his confirmation, a point brought home by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ’75, a close friend who graduated at the top of the Class of 1975 with Lynch back when awards were still given for “Best Boy” and “Best Girl.” She offered this advice to lawyers who will come before Lynch.
“Relax. If Gerry is with you he’ll make you look just as brilliant as he is, and if he isn’t with you, well, there’s nothing much you can do about that either,” Cote said. “I learned this lesson. Gerry reversed me yesterday,” as the courtroom erupted in laughter.
Lynch, the Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law, will continue to teach at the Law School, where he focuses on criminal law and procedure, sentencing, and professional responsibility.
“It actually will be easier for me, in a way,” Lynch said later about teaching. “As a trial judge you have so many more demands on your time … and here, I have a set number of hours and days where I’m supposed to be in one place, and it’s much fewer.”
Lynch joined the faculty in 1977 after clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan. He has also worked as a federal prosecutor, including two years as chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District.
Lynch was Vice Dean from 1992 to 1997, when he received the Columbia University President's Award for Outstanding Teaching, the first Law School recipient of the prize. In November 2008, he was awarded the Lawrence A. Wien Prize for Social Responsibility, which honors attorneys who put their resources and legal skills to work for the public good.
Lynch joins Professor Debra A. Livingston, another former Vice Dean, on the Second Circuit. An adjunct professor, Robert D. Sack, assumed senior status on the Circuit in August and works on an at-large basis.