Charlie's Letters

Article excerpt

Charles Alan Wright was a true giant in the law. It is hard to think of the profession without the involvement of his bright mind. Among his many talents, the great professor was a great writer of letters. My tribute to him is drawn from letters he wrote to me.1

My correspondence with Charlie Wright goes back many years. He advised me on mystery novels worth reading. We had an ongoing exchange on the fitness of the grammar book word "gender" in place of the more stirring word "sex." I sought his approval for retaining the word "shall" in the Supreme Court Rules when all other Federal Rules had succumbed to the more blunt "must."

But in the main, we corresponded about opinions on procedure, from my early years as a law teacher in the 1960s, through my tenure on the D.C. Circuit, up to the 1999-2000 Supreme Court term. My letters were typically brief, like this one from February 24, 2000. I sent Charlie an opinion released that week on the authority of a federal court of appeals to instruct the entry of judgment as matter of law and asked simply: "Did we get this one right?"2 Charlie made my day when he replied, on February 28, "What a question! Of course you got it exactly right."3 He said something more, perhaps sensing that the year had been a trying one for me as I endured a nine-month chemoradiation regimen following surgery for colorectal cancer: "You are turning out opinions at a great rate," Charlie wrote, "I hope I am right in thinking that this is a very good sign about your health."4

I will read from just one other letter, dated April 17, 1998, showing again the deeply caring side of Charlie Wright. I had written an introduction to a 1998 issue of the Texas Law Review honoring Charlie,5 and sent him a copy. Charlie wrote to me to say he was pleased and explained why. These are his words:

When Doug Laycock wrote the nice piece about me that you cite in several places, John Frank sent him a letter and sent a copy to me. …

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