Henry Friendly still has my vote for the title of greatest American judge who ever served at any level. It’s the country’s misfortune that he never served on the U.S. Supreme Court. He did, however, spend nearly thirty years on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, writing more than 1,000 opinions and carving out a reputation as one of the country’s most influential jurists. On March 10, 1986, thirty-two years ago today, Friendly died.
I’ve written at some length elsewhere about my definitely-not-unhealthy devotion to a long-deceased judge on an intermediate appellate court who, with a few exceptions, did not weigh in on the most hotly contested constitutional questions of the day. But Friendly’s reputation was built on his alarming analytical acuity, the lucidity of his writing, and his record of pragmatic decisions. He also had a great eye for talent: his law clerks included Chief Justice John Roberts, federal appellate judges Merrick Garland, A. Raymond Randolph, William Bryson, Pierre Leval, and Michael Boudin, and a slew of influential lawyers and academics including Bruce Ackerman, Larry Kramer, and Ruth Wedgewood.
For purposes of this blog, Friendly wrote several decisions addressing the scope of the attorney–client privilege and reviewing convictions for white collar crimes in an era when prosecutions for such crimes were relatively rare. Two of those decisions are discussed below and recounted in detail in David Dorsen’s excellent biography of Friendly.