Special Section: Taking the Bench

Photo of courtroom
Mary Kocol

The working lives of Harvard lawyers in the Third Branch

An Associated Press article last summer said it this way: "Some schools just have a knack for particular kinds of fame: Notre Dame has produced 400 football players who went on to the pros. Point Loma High School in California graduated two pitchers who threw perfect games for the New York Yankees."

And Harvard Law School, said the AP, has produced more judges than any other law school.

Six of the nine justices who currently sit on the U.S. Supreme Court went to HLS. (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended the school for two years but took her degree at Columbia.) In all, 19 justices--including Holmes, Brandeis, Frankfurter and Brennan--studied law at Harvard. HLS alumni account for 127 of the 866 federal district and appellate judgeships nationwide, and show up in similar numbers on state, local and foreign benches.

The stories in this magazine focus on the working lives of judges.

There is no course called "Judging 101" in the HLS course catalog. Rather, the law school is a place where seeds are planted, where future judges discover a passion for something--or a small but unforgettable idea--that looms larger over the years and sets them on the path to judge's work.

It is also a place they turn to later, for help.

Justice Stephen Breyer '64 can trace a direct line from the Agency class he took at HLS to a public service career that led him to the highest court in the land. Judge Navi Pillay LL.M. '82 S.J.D. '88, who today sits on the International Criminal Court, found the freedom at HLS to delve into ideas of justice that she wasn't free to explore under apartheid in her native South Africa.

Before Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. '79 and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. were confirmed by the Senate, HLS faculty and alumni helped prepare them for the hearings on their nominations. U.S. senators getting ready for those hearings also turned to the law school for advice.

All wrestled--and continue to wrestle--with the same questions that face judges every day, as the following pages make clear: How should law be interpreted and applied in changing times? What are the qualities and values we should expect to remain constant in a judge?

Toward "active liberty"
A Supreme Court justice offers a view from the top

Getting it right
A judge's life is varied and rewarding. And a bit lonely.

The bus driver's daughter
A child at the time of the Nuremberg Trials, Navanethem Pillay now carries their legacy forward

Dispatches from an embedded reporter, behind the scenes with the 2005 Ames Moot Court finalists