In Celebration of Charles Alan Wright

By Ginsburg, Ruth Bader | Texas Law Review, June 1998 | Go to article overview

In Celebration of Charles Alan Wright


Ginsburg, Ruth Bader, Texas Law Review


Ruth Bader Ginsburg*

Last year's announcement of Professor Charles Alan Wright's retirement from the University of Texas law faculty has yielded an altogether fitting tribute, this fine symposium issue containing thoughts on federal procedure and practice by jurists both knowledgeable and well-known. All contributors to the issue express appreciation for the great professor by writing in an area to which he has devoted his bright mind and fine hand-the continuing good health of our federal courts and the system of justice the courts serve.

As his cherished life partner Custis Wright has described him, Professor Wright is a man of "many sides." Among facets of his life, he played a large part in desegregating Austin and University facilities in the 1950s and 1960s, in preserving for Austin the classical music radio station KMFA, and in developing and enforcing rules of fair play for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He is a rail buff, a skillful game player, a promoter of the good life in his community through caring support for Austin's symphony, opera, and choral societies, and for the city's Episcopal Church and its schools. He has coached through decades of legendary success that most spirited of intramural touch football teams, the UT Legal Eagles.' And he has guided the profession's readers in his Practical Lawyer omnibus reviews of crime novels tightly or tenuously connected to the law.

Charles Alan Wright's talent has been experienced by students at diverse schools. Though the University of Texas long ago captured his abiding attention, he first served on the University of Minnesota's law faculty; as visiting professor, he has inspired students at Harvard, Pennsylvania, and Yale, the school at which he earned his law degree. He is an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge University; in 1990, he was named Arthur Goodhart Professor in Legal Science at Cambridge. Generations of students have been taught from his casebooks and have found answers to puzzles in his commentary. He now occupies, most suitably, his University's Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts.

Three Chief Justices appointed Charles Alan Wright to Committees on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States. He also served on the Permanent Committee for the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Author of the masterful American Law Institute (ALI) study, Division of Jurisdiction Between State and Federal Courts, completed in 1969, he is the first law professor ever to be chosen president of the ALI. He became the ALI's president in 1993; it is a stewardship all involved in the Institute hope he will retain well into the new century.

Counselor to our nation's presidents and to great corporations, he has also served as advocate for those without means to engage a lawyer, for example, an injured railroad worker,2 a mentally ill criminal defendant,3 also impecunious defendants seeking to enforce speedy trial rights,4 the privilege against self-incrimination,5 and the right to free speech, even in an encounter with a police officer.6 He personally argued twelve cases in the Supreme Court, prevailed in ten, and filed many powerfully persuasive pleadings,7 sometimes for a party, other times as true friend of the Court.8

Close at hand in my chambers, and in the chambers or offices of federal judges and federal court practitioners everywhere, Wright on Federal Courts, now in its fifth edition,9 contains the essence of it all, gras able analyses, instant aid, satisfying answers or clues to perplexing problems. If I could keep no more than ten books on my "see everyday" stand in chambers, Wright on Federal Courts would be among them.

Professor Wright's career is crowded with signal achievements, but Federal Practice and Procedure merits placement at the top of the list. That monumental work is Professor Wright's creation; he, and the excellent co-authors he has attracted to compose and maintain the over fiftyvolume treatise, daily affect the substance and style of federal judging and judgments across the country. …

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