Wechsler, Herbert, 1909-2000Variant names
From the description of Reminiscences of Herbert Wechsler : oral history, 1982. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309735556
Born in 1909, Herbert Wechsler entered the City College of New York at 16 and later attended Columbia Law School where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review. Wechsler graduated at the top of his class in 1931 and went on to serve as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone. After working for Justice Stone, Wechsler returned to Columbia Law School to teach courses in federal jurisdiction and criminal law. During this time Wechsler would collaborate with his colleague Jerome Michael, a partnership that yielded the casebook Criminal Law and Its Administration.
Wechsler’s one leave of absence from teaching began in 1940 when he started working in Washington for the Department of Justice, first serving in the Solicitor General’s office (1940-1941) and then as Executive Secretary of the Board of Legal Examiners (1941-1942). While working for the Department of Justice, Wechsler formed a personal relationship with Attorney General Francis Biddle, who eventually asked Wechsler to become Assistant Attorney General in charge of the War Division dealing with issues arising from World War II. One of the more notable issues Wechsler had to deal with in this position was reviewing the appellate arguments on behalf of the United States in favor of its internment policy for the case Korematsu v. The United States (1944). When Francis Biddle was appointed as the American Judge for the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Wechsler was asked to assist in the Justice Department’s preparations for the Tribunals and he eventually worked in Germany as the Principal Technical Adviser to the American judges.
In the years following the war Wechsler returned to teach at Columbia and took on a joint class with Henry Hart on the Federal Courts. The class became the impetus behind a casebook by the two, Hart and Wechsler’s The Federal Courts and the Federal System, which became a lauded book in the field and has gone through several editions. While at Columbia Wechsler also worked publicly, serving at the request of New York City Mayor William O’Dwyer as a member of the New York City Rent Commission and as a general adviser on the problems of rent control. Wechsler also worked for New York State on its Temporary Committee for Revision of the Penal Law and Criminal Code.
In 1952 Wechsler began his work as Chief Reporter on The Model Penal Code (MPC) for the American Law Institute (ALI), completing it a decade later. The MPC has since been used as a guide for most state legislatures and has helped in the standardization of codified penal laws in the United States. The same year Wechsler finished the MPC (1962) he was appointed as Director of the ALI. As Director, Wechsler presided over the creation of many studies and models produced by the institute including the Corporate Governance Project, the Second Restatement of Torts, and a Model Code of Pre-Arraignment.
In addition to teaching at Columbia and working with the American Law Institute, Wechsler worked as a private practitioner, with his most notable case being New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Wechsler successfully represented the New York Times as petitioner against the pursuit of a libel action by L.B. Sullivan, a city commissioner in charge of police in Montgomery, Alabama. The Supreme Court overturned the earlier judgment for Sullivan, convinced by Wechsler’s arguments that the standard of libel for public officials and their conduct must come from statements made with actual malice as opposed to negligence. Wechsler also produced many speeches, articles, and books, including most notably his Oliver Wendell Holmes Lecture (and Harvard Law Review article) “Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law,” written in 1959. Wechsler argued that judicial decisions must rest on reason and analysis (rather than concern for what immediate result might be reached from a ruling) and described “Neutral Principles” that could be applied. Using these "standards of neutrality" Wechsler criticized several Supreme Court decisions including Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, generating controversy within the world of law scholars as well as without when portions of the lecture were re-published in U.S. News And World Report .
Herbert Wechsler died in April of 2000 in New York City, lauded as a “Legal Giant” by the New York Times and eulogized by many legal scholars and judges in the field including his one-time student Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He was survived by his wife Doris and sister-in-law, Nancy Wechsler.
Dillard, Hardy Cross, "Herbert Wechsler," Columbia Law Review, Vol. 78, No. 5 (Jun., 1978), pp. 953-956.
"Herbert Wechsler, Legal Giant, Is Dead at 90." >The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2000. Stable URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/28/us/herbert-wechsler-legal-giant-is-dead-at-90.html
Shapiro, David L., "Herbert Wechsler--A Remembrance," Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 6 (Oct., 2000), pp. 1377-1383.
From the guide to the Herbert Wechsler papers, 1919-2000, [Bulk Dates: 1932-1995], (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|New York (State)|
|War crime trials--Germany (West)--Nuremberg|
|Japanese Americans--Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945|
|Law--Study and teaching|
|Libel and slander United States Cases|
|Model Penal Code|
|Nuremberg War Crime Trials, Nuremberg, Germany, 1946-1949|