A TRIBUTE to the Honorable Richard S. Arnold

By Harrison, Jill; Yap, Elisabeth C. | Judicature, November/December 2004 | Go to article overview

A TRIBUTE to the Honorable Richard S. Arnold


Harrison, Jill, Yap, Elisabeth C., Judicature


Judge Richard Sheppard Arnold died on September 23, 2004. Many friends, colleagues, and admirers have since paid homage to the judge, honoring not only his contributions to the judiciary and the law, but also a life well and fully lived. We had the privilege of serving as his law clerks-an experience that will last a lifetime though it spanned only one year-and add this tribute from that perspective.

What the judge chose to surround himself with suggested a man who knew where he came from and what his life's purpose was. His office was full of family pictures, black and white ones of Arnolds long since passed, and colorful, current ones of his wife, Kay Kelly Arnold, his two daughters, and his young grandchildren. Judge Arnold was always proud that he came from a family with a long history in the law, politics, and scholarship. Many generations of Arnolds have practiced law. Judge Arnold's maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Senate for many years, and his great-grandfather served in the U.S. House of Representatives. His mother was a scholar and schoolteacher. His brother is Judge Morris ("Buzz") Arnold, also an Eighth Circuit judge sitting in Little Rock; the two were best friends and shared a rich family history and a love of the law, Arkansas, politics, and history. These many Arnolds graced the judge's walls in photographs, standing watch over his office.

The judge's office also displayed mementos of his illustrious career. Simply framed school pictures and diplomas hint at the judge's academic accomplishments: First in his undergraduate class at Yale, where he distinguished himself in classics; first in his class at Harvard Law School. There was an autographed picture from Justice William J. Brennan, for whom he clerked, with a personal handwritten note from the justice, of whose friendship the judge always spoke warmly. Alter his clerkship at the Supreme Court, the judge worked at Covington and Burling, and then returned to Arkansas to join the family law firm, Arnold & Arnold, where he practiced for 10 years, handling a wide range of cases including several significant environmental law cases.

In 1973, he became legislative secretary to Governor Dale Bumpers, and went on to serve as Senator Bumpers's legislative assistant. In 1978, President Carter appointed Judge Arnold to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas. In 1980, Judge Arnold was appointed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Arnold was nearly nominated to succeed Justice Harry Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court in 1994. His accomplishments are remarkable individually-taken together, they are extraordinary. Given the judge's innate legal talent, his ample achievements surprise no one.

The judge worked hard and had many responsibilities. For the federal judiciary alone, he served as the chairman of the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1987 to 1996, vice chairman of the Committee on the Judicial Branch of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 2001 on, and chief judge of the Eighth Circuit from 1992 to 1998.

The judge once told us that he was waiting for the day when he could fold his hands on his empty desk and sit quietly, just the way his kindergarten teacher had instructed his class to do when they had completed all of their work. That did not seem likely given all that he undertook. Yet, despite how busy he was, the judge's office-and the judge-radiated a sense of serenity. Judge Arnold typically worked in one of two settings, either at an ornate, oval-shaped antique desk in the front of his office, or at a simple wooden rectangular table in the back. He was at home in both settings, just as he was equally as comfortable with royalty as with regular folks. Both spaces were notably spare and orderly: his Bible and lesson reading schedule lay open on the otherwise clear work table, and his red calendar book and recent correspondence sat neatly on his grand desk. …

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