In Memoriam: William J. Stuntz

By Karlan, Pamela S. | Harvard Law Review, June 2011 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: William J. Stuntz


Karlan, Pamela S., Harvard Law Review


In October Term 1985, I met two extraordinary men who changed my life: Harry Blackmun (for whom I clerked) and Bill Stuntz (who was clerking for Justice Powell in the chambers next door). They were connected by the combination of a passion for justice, a profound impact on the law, a deep religious faith accompanied (probably not coincidentally) by an almost disquieting humility, and a rare gift for friendship and celebrating others' good fortune. And now yet another connection: the Harvard Law Review has given me a chance to celebrate each of them. (1)

There's one more tie, hardly surprising in two men so interested in American history, statistics, and rules: they were great baseball fans. With Bill, it wasn't just the games: the short walk over to the University of Virginia's field (where we once saw a triple play and, much to Bill's dismay, always heard the ping of the metal bats) or the long lazy drives to Lynchburg for Carolina League matchups (where we marked Bill's birthday with a night in the emergency room after our colleague John Harrison was hit by a line drive); it was the conversations. As with criminal procedure and criminal law. Bill had an encyclopedic knowledge. I still remember the afternoon a group of us tried to come up with the career home runs leader for each letter of the alphabet. Back then, it was Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks ... Carl Yastrzemski, Gus Zernial. (2) Only Bill knew--indeed, had heard of--Zernial.

That was a more innocent time, and of course the effervescent Banks has been passed by the sullen Barry Bonds. Several years ago, when Bill's back pain had flared up, I sent him a sympathetic email. I asked whether he remembered Bill James's power/speed number, which is calculated by multiplying a player's stolen bases by his home runs, doubling the product, and dividing it by the sum of stolen bases plus home runs. (3) The number measures excellence and balance across several dimensions. It's the generalized formula for things like the 30/30 club--which sounds more interesting than it is--whose most significant repeat players were the Bondses, father and son. I suggested to Bill that he had to be near the top of the law professor virtue/suffering number.

Bill replied with his characteristic good humor mixed with an edge: "I'm thrilled," he wrote, "to be mentioned in the vicinity of Barry Bonds, though I would have thought the main thing we have in common is Schedule II controlled substances." (4)

But there are other baseball players with whom Bill had far more in common. At the Festschrift Harvard Taw School held for Bill last spring, I surveyed the field, dismissing various possibilities--Sandy Koufax (strong religious principles but the wrong Testament); Mark Teixeira (also a notable Annapolis native, but a Yankee); and Mark Belanger (dark, skinny, and lacking discernible musculature, but famous for being defensive, which Bill never was).

Perhaps, though, I dismissed Cal Ripken too quickly. Ripken remade what it meant to be a shortstop. His arm was so strong that he could set up deeper in the field, which enabled him to make more plays. But precisely because he played so deep, he made it look easy: people sometimes didn't appreciate Ripken's fielding because he never had to dive to get to the ball. The same was true of Bill. He had one of the best arms in the legal academy. Those of us who came to constitutional criminal procedure or the political economy of criminal law after Bill may not recognize how much he remade the field, writing things that--once he said them--seemed self-evident, but that only a man with his gifts could have perceived at first. …

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