John Hart Ely was born in New York City on December 3, 1938. He received his A.B. from Princeton University in 1960 and LL.B. from Yale Law School in 1963. He held the following academic appointments: professor, Yale Law School, 1968-1973; professor, Harvard Law School, 1973-1982; professor, Stanford Law School, 1982-1996, dean of the Stanford Law school from 1982-1987; and professor, University of Miami School of Law, 1996-2003.
In 1962 he clerked for Abe Fortas and assisted with drafting a brief on behalf of Clarence Gideon who had been tried and convicted without legal representation. The next year, Gideon v. Wainwright was overturned by the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that underprivileged citizens accused of serious crimes are entitled to legal representation paid for by the government. After graduating from Yale Law School, he served as the youngest member of the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He also was a criminal defense lawyer in San Diego. In 1975 he left academia briefly to work for the U. S. Department of Transportation serving as legal counsel to Secretary William Coleman; Ely was involved in litigation relating to landing rights in the United States for the Concorde, the supersonic transport.
Ely’s most important work was in constitutional law and he was best known for his book, Democracy and Distrust: A Theory of Judicial Review (Harvard, 1980). His other books include War and Responsibility (Princeton, 1993) and On Constitutional Ground (Princeton, 1996).
Ely died on October 25, 2003, in Miami, Florida.
From the guide to the John Hart Ely papers, 1833-2003, (Manuscripts and Archives)