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In Pursuit of Right and Justice

In Pursuit of Right and Justice: Edward Weinfeld as Lawyer and Judge

William E. Nelson
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    In Pursuit of Right and Justice
    Book Description:

    In Pursuit of Right and Justice chronicles the life of the United States District Court's Judge Edward Weinfeld, from his humble Lower East Side origins to his distinction as one of the nation's most respected federal judges. Judge Edward Weinfeld's personal growth and socio-economic mobility provides an excellent illustration of how Catholics and Jews descended from turn-of-the-century immigrants were assimilated into the mainstream of New York and American life during the course of the twentieth century. Weinfeld left a rich collection of personal papers that William E. Nelson examines, which depict the compromises and sacrifices Weinfeld had to make to attain professional advancement. Weinfeld's jurisprudence remained closely tied to his own personal values and to the historical contexts in which cases came to his court. Nelson aptly describes how Weinfeld strove to avoid making new law. He tried to make decisions on preexisting rules or bedrock legal principles; he achieved just results by searching for and finding facts that called those rules into play. Weinfeld's vision of justice was simultaneously a liberal one that enabled him to develop law that reflected societal change, and an apolitical one that did not rest on contested policy judgments.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5909-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    William E. Nelson
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Edward Weinfeld was born in obscurity on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But he did not die in obscurity. An article-length obituary appeared the day after his death in theNew York Times, followed by an editorial the next day, and he was buried from Temple Emanu-El, New York’s preeminent Reform Jewish synagogue. His death also was noted in national media such as theWashington Post, theLos Angeles Times, and theSan Francisco Chronicle

    TheTimesobituary noted that Weinfeld was “one of the nation’s most respected Federal judges” and had “attain[ed] a reputation that extended far beyond his own...

  5. 1 Always a New Yorker
    (pp. 7-16)

    Edward Weinfeld worked and dwelled his entire life within walking distance of the tenement on the Lower East Side in which he was born. Admittedly, Weinfeld enjoyed long walks; nonetheless, the apartment on East Sixty-sixth Street in Manhattan, to which he moved in his late sixties and in which he died only four months short of his eighty-seventh birthday, was only about three miles north of that Lower East Side tenement. And his offices, as a practicing attorney, a state government official, and, later, a federal judge were only about a mile south of his birthplace—on lower Broadway, Centre...

  6. 2 Youth
    (pp. 17-30)

    Edward Weinfeld enjoyed a secure childhood within what he recalled as a “close family.” According to Weinfeld, his mother ran “a typical Jewish household”; all day Friday “the kitchen would be going with all kinds of goods that were traditional for Friday night and for Saturday.” But the Sabbath was not the only special day for the Weinfeld family. Every Wednesday afternoon was another. Because of his father’s business, Weinfeld’s family could not always have meals together, except on Wednesday afternoon. Then, the family would always “have a big dinner, and usually it was broiled poultry of some kind; it...

  7. 3 Getting Started
    (pp. 31-57)

    Edward Weinfeld was graduated from New York University School of Law in June 1921 and learned in August 1922 that he had passed the bar examination.¹ During law school and the interval between graduation and admission to practice, Weinfeld had been working as a law clerk to a well-established attorney, Ben Hartstein, with whom he planned to begin practice. We can guess at the level of excellence that Weinfeld, merely twenty-one years old, had already attained by the fact that he was able to negotiate a partnership with Hartstein in which he, Weinfeld, without putting in any capital, would receive...

  8. 4 Family
    (pp. 58-75)

    We have seen how, as he neared the end of his first decade in practice, Edward Weinfeld had already developed most of the characteristics that those who knew him in his later years on the bench would identify as distinctively his. Growing up in “working-class New York,”¹ he had learned to accept with modesty a plain, simple life dedicated to helping others. He also had become an unusually able listener and observer, who responded with compassion to the human situations he encountered and with exceptional empathy to underdogs and others excluded from elite social networks. Finally, he had learned to...

  9. 5 Politics and Public Service
    (pp. 76-96)

    Edward Weinfeld addressed the problem of his inability adequately to support his growing family by turning to politics. At the outset of the twenty-first century, when salaries of government officials are probably lower in relation to private-sector pay than at any time in American history, readers of this book may find it difficult to imagine that people would seek public employment in order to increase their income. Today, elite-trained lawyers seek office to do good, to obtain power, or to make connections they can exploit financially after their public service is completed. At earlier moments in the American past, however,...

  10. 6 Friendship
    (pp. 97-112)

    Friends were central to the life of Edward Weinfeld—both to his professional life and to his private one. Weinfeld always had time for the men who became his friends, and he enjoyed conversation with them about their lives, their concerns, and the subjects that interested them. He was intensely loyal to his friends, and they reciprocated his loyalty. Even though Weinfeld’s many friendships (too many to discuss in this chapter) consumed a good deal of his time, ultimately they helped him to relax. Friends also played key roles in the advancement of his career.

    Some of Weinfeld’s friendships went...

  11. 7 The Making of a Judge
    (pp. 113-132)

    From his earliest years at the bar, Edward Weinfeld had always wanted to be a judge and had “actively aspire[d] to” a “place … on the bench.”¹ He worked extremely hard to develop the skills and stature that would merit his appointment. And he did so with great success. By the time he was named to the District Court in 1950, at the age of forty-nine, a widely shared consensus had formed among New York City elites that Weinfeld would bring exceptional talent to the court and would make an outstanding judge. In the words of theNew York Times,...

  12. 8 The Patriarch: Edward Weinfeld’s Judicial Style
    (pp. 133-155)

    The green, leather-bound volume into which Weinfeld placed his excerpts about the qualities of good judges was not a trivial diversion. The entries in the book resurfaced constantly as he performed his job; ultimately they created the core of Weinfeld’s judicial persona. It is that persona which this chapter seeks to begin to comprehend.

    First, we must strive to recapture the image of Judge Weinfeld seated in his courtroom conducting a judicial proceeding. “On the bench, he was single-minded and even austere. Especially in his later years, his high cheekbones, piercing eyes, and bushy eyebrows gave him the appearance of...

  13. 9 The Liberal: Edward Weinfeld’s Judicial Values
    (pp. 156-173)

    In analyzing Edward Weinfeld’s judicial style in the preceding chapter, we focused on how he decided cases, whenever possible, by applying a fixed body of existing legal principles in the context of facts found in a careful, painstaking manner. At the core of his vision was the impartial judge who insured that due process of law, equal treatment of litigants, and the basic safeguards of a fair trial were upheld. As we saw particularly in his cases involving statutory construction and the exercise of discretion, Weinfeld sought to avoid making policy choices; he always tried as a judge to be...

  14. 10 Teacher and Mentor
    (pp. 174-193)

    As the last two chapters have shown, Edward Weinfeld formulated a distinctive jurisprudence of potential importance to scholars and judges of today. But his judicial career is also important for a second reason—for the role he played in teaching and mentoring young attorneys, who during his years on the bench transformed the New York bar and ultimately became its leaders. This chapter will examine the relationship between Weinfeld and the law clerks whom he trained and mentored. In particular, it will examine the backgrounds of the clerks, the processes by which they were appointed, and their impact on the...

  15. 11 The Judge as Societal Advisor
    (pp. 194-206)

    This chapter examines the quasi-judicial and extrajudicial jobs of Edward Weinfeld following his appointment to the bench. These jobs ranged from the essentially judicial one of serving for a decade on the Multidistrict Litigation Panel to counseling friends with legal or legal-personal difficulties. The chapter begins with consideration of Weinfeld’s work on the Multidistrict Panel. Next, it surveys his role as an advisor to his alma mater, New York University, through service on its board of trustees and as president of its Law Center Foundation. Then, it turns to his work as a member of both a judicial committee and...

  16. 12 The Blessings and Tribulations of Age
    (pp. 207-220)

    Approximately every decade, profound changes had occurred in Edward Weinfeld’s life. In his early teens, he had left the confines of home and the Lower East Side and entered the mainstream of Manhattan life at DeWitt Clinton High School. In his early twenties, he had begun the practice of law, and a decade later, just a few months shy of his thirtieth birthday, he had married and begun a family. Several years thereafter, in his late thirties, he had assumed public office, and the decade after that, at the age of forty-nine, he had ascended the federal bench. Thereafter, Weinfeld...

  17. 13 And the Just Shall Bring Forth Wisdom
    (pp. 221-228)

    Two days after Edward Weinfeld died, eighteen hundred mourners attended his funeral at Temple Emanu-El.¹ The funeral service truly captured Edward Weinfeld, the judge and the man. Morris Lasker, who was Weinfeld’s colleague on the district court bench, spoke of his commitment.

    always to do right without being presumptuous; to serve the public with all your strength, without craving power; to use the law as an instrument for justice, without sacrificing stability. And your uniqueness (for you were unique) consisted in fulfilling that commitment day after day, year after year, without pretentiousness…. Your creed was to do justly and to...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 229-284)
  19. Index
    (pp. 285-290)
  20. About the Author
    (pp. 291-291)