Goodby Mike, Hello Judge

Judge Bright's portrait

Judge Bright’s portrait

I have written before about Myron (Mike) Bright, a judge, but not just any judge, on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. At 95, he continues to hear cases.

In 2009, Myron H. Bright reached a historic milestone by becoming the longest‐serving working judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. During his remarkable 40 plus years of service, he has heard over 6,000 cases, employed over 100 law clerks, and worked with 35 of the 58 judges who have served on that Circuit’s Court of Appeals.

I am very pleased to say that Judge Bright has now written a book about his life and his experiences. As chairman of the board of the Historical Society of the United States Courts in the Eighth Circuit, and a great admirer of Judge Bright, whom I have had the privilege of knowing for over 40 years, I read with interest Myron H. Bright, Goodbye Mike, Hello Judge, My Journey for Justice, Institute for Regional Studies Press, North Dakota State University (2014).

I loved this gently written book. In addition to telling us about a remarkable life, the book is an extremely important account of the political world of the upper mid-west during the last half of the 20th century. Historians will be citing this book quite a lot.

For example, Judge and Mrs. Bright’s meeting, on the occasion of his confirmation, with President Johnson is both funny and insightful. Who knew that you could get into the White House by showing an Elks Club card? The conversation between Bright and the President about Bright needing to remember that Johnson nominated him is just one more fascinating tidbit.

The book is also valuable for those who study legal history. For example, the story of how Bright and my old mentor, Judge Don Ross, concocted the burden shifting framework to avoid an en banc review in a Title VII case is fascinating. Moreover, Bright’s dedication of the chapter discussing Green v. McDonnell Douglas* to Judge Ross is an act of kindness and respect that also sheds light on how judicial “politics” on the federal courts of appeal played out between judges of varying ideologies during a far gentler time.

My copy of the book contains this handwritten note from the judge: “Dear Rich, You are a great judge and even more, a best friend to Judge Don Ross and my friend also. Myron H. Bright.”

There are not many things that bring tears to my eyes, but this note did. I suppose that is because I am old and ever more sentimental. That admitted, this remarkable book about a legal giant should be devoured with great pleasure by historians and lawyers alike.


* For the Supreme Court opinion, see here.

Memorial ceremony for Judge Ross

On March 24, 2014, a joint session of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska was held in memory of Judge Donald R. Ross, my mentor. The ceremony materials are now on the web. See The Historical Society of the United States Courts in the Eighth Circuit (click on Ross page). In particular, I recommend viewing the video.

Remembering that Ross won the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, the ceremony begins with “Amazing Grace” performed on a trumpet by Staff Sergeant Carl Eitzen of the United States Air Force. It ends with the Sergeant performing the “Air Force Song.”

In between, there are remarks by (a) Chief Circuit Judge Riley and Chief District Judge Smith Camp (whose father was one of Judge Ross’ law partners);  (b) three appellate colleagues (Judge Myron Bright, Judge William Webster and Judge Roger Wollman); (c) one of Judge Ross’ remarkably talented children, Becky Ross, who is a distinguished trial lawyer and managing litigation partner at a large national law firm; (d) and the judge’s son-in-law, the highly regarded Justice Ken Stephan of the Nebraska Supreme Court. I was privileged to serve as master of ceremonies.

In particular, the remarks of Judge Ross’ friend Judge William Webster, former head of the FBI and then the CIA, is worth listening to (beginning at about 18:34) if only to hear one truly remarkable man speak about another truly remarkable man. But, if you have time, listening to the other speakers will give you an even better idea of a man who quietly became a national power broker and later a judge who, despite his past political affiliation, played things right down the middle as an appellate judge.

This was one of the most important events of my life. At the conclusion of the ceremony, I had fulfilled a solemn promise to a man I revered. Some things are more important than others.




Justice Douglas and his first day on the job

As some of you know, I am privileged to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors of The Historical Society of the United States Courts in the Eighth Circuit. In that capacity, I receive all sorts of very interesting historical information.

Yesterday’s in-box brought me the semi-regular Jackson List and an article entitled A New Justice (1939). authored by John Q. Barret, Professor of Law, St.. John’s University, New York, NY. This offering describes Justice William O. Douglas’s first day on the bench after taking the spot previously held by Justice Brandeis.

On the day Douglas was sworn in and took the bench, eight Justices took their seats first—they were, as viewed left to right from the audience, Associate Justices Felix Frankfurter, Hugo L. Black, Harlan Fiske Stone and James C. McReynolds, Chief Justice Hughes, and Associate Justices Pierce Butler, Owen J. Roberts and Stanley Reed.  At the ripe old age of 40, Douglas took the oath and his seat to Reed’s left.

We have a contemporaneous account of what Douglas thought on his first day in the form of a diary. Here, in his own words, are a portion of Douglas’ recorded recollection that I find particularly fascinating:

April 17, 1939.  I took the regular oath in the conference room a few minutes before noon, the C.J. administering it.  As we filed in from the conference room to the court room, I bringing up the rear as the junior[,] I could not help recalling with a smile Stone’s words of greeting when I was nominated – “Welcome to the chain gang.”  Shortly after I took the oath in open court was escorted to my seat, my son, who was seated with my wife, daughter, sister  brother, caused great merriment on the bench by insisting on leaving the courtroom for the very obvious purpose of going to the toilet.  He had violently objected to attending the ceremonies because they would cause him to miss gym at his school.  My daughter less violently objected because she would miss French at school.  I told Felix that I thought each of them showed excellent judgment and revealed a sense of relevancy and importance of events.

In the presence of McReynolds none of the judges smokes.  Roberts gave me a bit of advice.  He said that at his first conference he light[ed] a cigar.  In a moment McReynolds passed him a note saying “Tobacco smoke is personally objectionable to me.”  Van de Vanter [retired Justice Willis Van Devanter], so I am told, used to move over once in awhile to a far corner of the conference room and take a puff or two on a pipe – McReynolds or no McReynolds.  Apparently tobacco smoke is not the only thing McReynolds dislikes.  He seems to dislike all of his colleagues, judging by his crusty manner.  He thoroughly disliked Brandeis.  Why even this is told which I am certain is true.  During conference whenever Brandeis spoke, McReynolds would get up and leave the room and stand outside the door leaving it barely open so that he could tell when Brandeis had finished.  Then he would return.  He also disliked [former Associate Justice John H.] Clarke whom I never knew.  He was a paramount reason for Clarke’s resignation [in 1922].  What torture he could not apply by complete disregard of Clarke’s presence he made up for by badgering.  McReynolds also dislikes thoroughly the Roosevelt administration.  As I was talking to him about a mutual friend, [Professor] George Bates of Harvard [Business School], he let loose some cracks about the New Deal, terming its program as nothing but “moonshine.”  I said to myself, “What a great state of mind for a judge!!”

Ah, legal realism.




Judge “Buzz” Arnold, polymath, legal historian and former federal district judge

I am a big fan of legal history.   I spend a fair amount of time lending my meagre talents to the preservation of the legal history of the judges and courts in the Eighth Circuit as Chairman of the Board of The Historical Society of the United States Courts in the Eighth Circuit.

I am especially fond of legal history written by judges especially those who started their careers as federal trial judges.  How they find the time to do their legal work and turn out distinguished legal histories is beyond me.  So, today, I want to briefly highlight a great judge and a world-class legal historian.

While I am not generally a fan of portraits, this is one of my favorites.  It perfectly captures this gentle man.

While I am not generally a fan of portraits, this is one of my favorites. It perfectly captures this gentle man.

To say that Judge Morris S. Arnold (Buzz), of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, is brilliant understates the truth.  The word “polymath” is a perfect description of the judge.  In addition to being a highly regarded legal scholar, the judge is a historian of the first rank.

Like his brother (the late (and much beloved) Richard Arnold who served with Buzz on the Court of Appeals), Arnold attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, graduating in 1959. Thereafter, he received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1965 from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He then attended the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, having received the LL.B in 1968. He received master of laws (LL.M), and doctor of juridical science (SJD) degrees from Harvard University Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1969 and 1971, respectively.

He was a professor at the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington from 1971-1977. He was then the university vice president and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1977–1981, when he returned to Arkansas as a professor at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 1981 to 1984.  In 1985, he returned to Indiana as Dean of the law school.

On October 23, 1985, President Ronald W. Reagan nominated Morris Arnold to a new seat as judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, based in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  The Senate confirmed his nomination on December 16, and he received his commission on December 17.  Arnold left the district court in 1992 to assume a judgeship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.*

Judge Arnold is the author of books, articles, book reviews, and speeches, mostly on the subjects of English legal history and colonial Arkansas. His research at archives in Spain and France allowed him to portray a colonial Arkansas previously unknown.  His book The Rumble of a Distant Drum: Quapaws and Old World Newcomers, 1673-1804 won the Booker Worthen Literary Prize and J. G. Ragsdale Book Award in Arkansas History. Arkansas: A Narrative History won the Arkansania Award.

In 2001 he was awarded the Porter Literary Prize for his body of work on colonial Arkansas. Most significantly, in 1994 the French government named him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques for his work on eighteenth-century Louisiana.

Buzz served as president of the American Society for Legal History and as vice president of the Selden Society (the only learned society and publisher devoted entirely to English legal history). As ASLH president, he helped establish the Law and History Review, which is recognized internationally as the leading journal in the field of legal history.  In 2012, at its annual meeting, the ASLH specially recognized Judge Arnold for his extraordinary contributions to the field of legal history.

Not bad for a really nice guy who started his federal judicial career trying cases in Ft. Smith.


*One of my few claims to fame is that my confirmation hearing to be a district judge in 1992 was held on the  same day that Buzz’s had his confirmation hearing regarding his nomination to the Court of Appeals.  That’s when I first had the opportunity to meet Buzz.  I have been in awe ever since.

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