Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

A Tribute to Lewis H. LaRue

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

A Tribute to Lewis H. LaRue

Article excerpt

Andrew W. McThenia, Jr.*

"A Caring Contrarian "

The title of this tribute may seem oxymoronic. One does not normally think of contrarians as suffering much humility or being warm and fuzzy types and so my description of Lash might seem to jar. But the more I think about it, the more accurate it seems. Lash is not your ordinary run of the mine contrarian-the sort of thorn looking for a side into which to stick. But he does not hesitate to challenge the conventional wisdom at every turn. Others have described him as "an iconoclastic lawyer."1 And that is not bad, but it says at the same time both too much and too little. The word suggests a violence that is foreign to Lash. The initial iconoclasts were about destroying what they believed to be graven images and cutting off the hands of their adversaries. But the description is also incomplete. Iconoclasts attack what is perceived to be heresy. They often do not have as their targets the respectable vices which take refuge under the eaves of the church.

Lash, in true contrarian form, is not adverse to exposing to the harsh light of day our respectable vices as well as our heresies. For nearly four decades, he served that function with brilliance on our faculty in most matters involving our corporate life. He always did his best to insist on integrity in matters of faculty governance. Sometimes when we seemed on the verge of taking dissembling action, the clear effect of which would have been to abrogate an existing policy by calling it a special case, he would gently remind us that maybe we ought go on and change our policy so that we could honestly practice what we preached.

Where does the caring part of the title show up? One episode says more than a volume. Some years ago we had a wonderful senior colleague, Bill Ritz, who had labored long and hard on some important questions surrounding the Judiciary Act of 1789. As he was beginning to pull his research together and get his thinking into book form, he suffered a tragic and debilitating stroke which left him speechless and unable to write. Lash and a friend, Wythe Holt, picked up Bill's project and turned it into a very fine book.2 This act can only be described as a labor of love for a friend and former colleague. It says something very revealing about this contrarian's sense of community.

To read the LaRue canon is to see both the contrarian and caring traits throughout. Lash loves books and it is not surprising that he has over the years reviewed more than a few. I have read most of those reviews and they tend to have an interesting format. First, he describes accurately what the book is about. Then he attempts to state with simple clarity the author's thesis. Without fail, he makes clear whether he plans to discuss the validity of the thesis or the execution of it. His footnotes always disclose that he has sent a prepublication draft of the review to the author for comment. If he disagrees with the book, he prefaces his disagreement with an admonition to the reader that she ought to read the book and make up her own mind.

His longer writings exhibit the same sense of humility while cutting against the grain of traditional thinking. I have found myself reading a LaRue piece and being gently led down a road that I would not, in all likelihood, have traveled. But along the way, I find myself making connections with thoughts of my own which are sometimes deeply hidden and always inadequately formed. As I chew on his text, I feel as if I am encouraged to disagree and to strike out on my own path.

What makes this contrarian so interesting? I am not sure I know, but I think it has not a little to do with the fact that Lash is fiercely antitheoretical.3 He faces the world with few preconceived notions and even fewer illusions. And he is not afraid to look in some different places for that rare commodity known as truth. He once wrote that "[w]hen we sit down to rest, the best any of us can hope for is that someone might say of us . …

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