Remembering Charles Alan Wright
Powers, William, Jr., Texas Law Review
We suffered a tremendous loss with the death of Charles Alan Wright on July 7, 2000. For more than forty-five years, he was the nation's leading authority on the federal courts and the United States Constitution. We miss him.
Charlie was undoubtedly our greatest professor. Indeed, he was the greatest legal academic of his generation. More than that, he was a good and decent person. He was a loyal friend and colleague. He was a true gentleman.
Harry Reasoner, managing partner of Vinson & Elkins and President of the Law School Foundation Board of Trustees, said of Charlie that "no one has done more to make it [UT] a great national law school than he has. "
Dean Michael Sharlot once said,
He is sui generis. It is impossible to say enough about him and his truly remarkable achievements. He is the paradigm of the American lawyer-scholar. His career has defied the trend toward increasingly narrow specialization and has brilliantly illustrated how the legally trained mind can be put to the service of his profession, community, and nation. Even on modified service he remains the most distinguished and esteemed member of a great faculty. No one has done more to the improvement of the administration of justice, of our understanding of federal practice and procedure, and in making this school one of the premier law schools in the United States.1
All of that is true, and so much more.
Charlie officially retired in 1997, but he continued to teach half time and to hold the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts. His great scholarly achievement is Federal Practice and Procedure, a fifty-volume reference work on federal courts. It is cited so heavily, as Professor Doug Laycock once wrote, "because its persuasive authority is accepted, and because its explanations of complicated matters are so lucid."2 In Reasoner's words, Charlie "had a majestic command of the law and the English language."3
Charlie's distinguished reputation rests in part on his appearances before the United States Supreme Court. He won ten of the twelve cases he personally argued. Several were milestones. He represented Texas in two cases. He was easily the most sought after counsel in matters before the Supreme Court.
Charlie also gained prominence as a member of the American Law Institute, the most important legal reform organization in the country. Elected to the Institute at the age of thirty-one, he soon became active on its governing group, the ALI Council. In 1993 he became the first academic to serve as the Institute's President. Three Chief Justices appointed him to the Standing Committee 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 History of the Supreme Court and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984, and was among 16 professors named in 1999 as corresponding fellows of the British Academy, Britain's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.
Charlie was born in Philadelphia, graduated from Wesleyan University in 1947, and graduated from the Yale Law School in 1949. He clerked for Judge Charles E. Clark on the Second Circuit before joining the law faculty at the University of Minnesota in 1951. …