Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Guest Post: A Law Faculty Candidate and His Judicial Reference (1934)

The following guest post is by John Q. Barrett (St. John's and The Jackson List)

In summer 1934, Harold Roland Shapiro was a young lawyer.  It seems that he had earned his Bachelor of Laws degree eight years earlier at New York Law School, and that he had gone on to work in Washington, D.C., in a government position that had something to do with trade and antitrust law.  [I have not been able to find many sources on Mr. Shapiro’s background—I welcome any pointers.]

It also seems that Shapiro was acquainted with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo.

We know this because Shapiro wrote to Justice Cardozo during the Court’s 1934 summer recess.    Shapiro reported some good personal news:  positive signs that he would be employed by his alma mater to teach Administrative Law.  And Shapiro asked for Cardozo’s help—he requested a letter from the Justice to New York Law School’s dean, recommending Shapiro for the teaching position.

Cardozo declined to send the “Supreme Court justice letter” that surely would have been, if Shapiro had needed it, an employment-clincher.  Instead, Cardozo, summering in Westchester County outside New York City, wrote back to Shapiro, explaining his policy of not volunteering recommendations:

Rye, N.Y.

                        August 12, 1934

Dear Mr. Shapiro,

            I am much gratified

at the word that you are

likely to give instruction in

administrative law at the

New York Law School.  You

have many qualifications

for the work and will

be happy in it.

            As for writing to the

Dean, I have a fixed rule

never to recommend any one

for appointment to a

position of any kind unless

my opinion has been solicited

by the appointing power.

You will agree with me, when

you reflect about the matter,

that this is the only

appropriate attitude for a

judge to take.

            With all good wishes and

kind regards

                        I am faithfully yours

                                    Benjamin N. Cardozo

It’s not clear what happened next.  Maybe Shapiro got the Dean to ask the Justice for his views and Cardozo then endorsed, or maybe Shapiro did not and his application went forward without it.

In any case, Shapiro got the job—he became an Assistant Professor at New York Law School (at least by 1938, which is the earliest press reference I can find, but I assume that it happened in Fall 1934).

This all seems extra-relevant to me because I am, like many law professors, on my school’s Appointments Committee this year and going through candidate resumes.  Many are excellent.  I wish every applicant the luck of Shapiro and each of us who gets to think, teach, and write as a law professor.

And I am reminded, by Justice Cardozo, that when an interesting candidate lists a great Judge as a reference and I might wish to hear his or her views, I should take the initiative to make contact.

And a final point, for history:  For any collector, or any would-be benefactor of an appropriate archive, the Cardozo-to-Shapiro letter is available for purchase—click here if you have $1,500 to spend for it.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Legal History, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)