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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Judge Blane Michael

M. Blane Michael, a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, passed away on Friday.  As one of his former clerks, I am incredibly sad at this news.  Judge Michael was one of the most decent and honorable people I have ever met.  He was beloved by all on the Fourth Circuit, no matter the political stripe -- he got along fabulously with Judge Luttig, despite their frequent clashes on the page, and he frequently went jogging with Judge Wilkinson during court week.  At the same time, he was an eloquent advocate for his positions.  He was one of the best writers I've known, constantly reworking drafts to make the writing seem effortless.  He worked hard and expected the same from his clerks. I remember one time he gently chastised me for "letting the flag touch the ground;" this chiding was the closest he came to rebuke.  He was modest in a genuine way and had a true sense of proportion.  He would often say that his job was less important than the county justice of the peace, and you could see that he meant it, because he was thinking of the importance of the job to the average person.  But he did not shrink from a challenge or duck a fight.  His position on the court made many of his best opinions into dissents, and he bore this role with grace.  I thought this interchange from the NYU alumni magazine illustrated his perspective:

Q: Have you ever come across any law that you felt you were bound to enforce, but you also thought to be unjust?

A: I will duck this question because it is my duty to apply settled law, and it is usually best to do that without griping.

The Charleston Gazette has more information hereHere's a 2003 NYT Magazine article, "The Power of the Fourth," on the circuit's more controversial days.  Here is Judge Michael's Madison Lecture at NYU in 2009.  And here's a post on a 2005 clerk's reunion from my co-clerk Vic Fleischer. 

Judge Michael will be deeply missed.

Posted by Matt Bodie on March 27, 2011 at 11:20 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Thanks Matt. It was wonderful to see you and many other former Judge Michael clerks at the funeral today. Judge Wilkinson's moving remembrance today exemplified your point about how Judge Michael was beloved by his colleagues on the Fourth Circuit. (Not to mention by his clerks and dedicated staff!)

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Judge Michael's talents as a writer, mentor and judge. However, I want to add that he also was a deeply -- and mischievously -- funny man. It was therefore appropriate that the speakers had us in stiches today when they recounted some of Judge Michael's exploits. I will miss his keen (and kind) wit. I will miss his laugh. I will miss his stories.

I am extremely fortunate to have had Judge Michael as a mentor. Working for him was the best job I ever had (or ever will have). His life is an inspiration to me. I am deeply saddened by his passing.

Posted by: Joe Leahy | Mar 30, 2011 1:05:06 AM

RIP Judge Michael. You will be missed.

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 29, 2011 9:58:22 PM

While visiting a friend clerking for Judge Michael, I was able to join the judge and his clerks for their usual(?) Friday hot dog lunch. While I would have gladly bought the judge caviar in return for the witty, charming, thoughtful
conversation we had, he wouldn't even let me buy my own hot dog. I've now been lucky enough to meet a few dozen judges and (with the exception of Justice Stevens) none have left as strong a positive impression as Judge Michael. RIP.

Posted by: Andrew Siegel | Mar 28, 2011 11:58:24 AM

That's a bom mot: "...constantly reworking drafts to make the writing seem effortless."

Posted by: Jimbino | Mar 27, 2011 4:17:49 PM

I'm very sorry to hear that. I was very fortunate to meet Judge Michael and to have dinner with him (and several of his former clerks) at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference in 2009. He was delightful.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 27, 2011 3:13:00 PM

My year in Charleston clerking for Judge Michael with co-clerks Carolina Mala Corbin (Asst. Prof., U. Miami Law) and John Taylor (Assoc. Dean, WVU Law) was easily the most enjoyable and enriching year of my professional life. Judge Michael’s precise, extensive revisions to 4, 5, 8+ drafts of an opinion were the best writing training a young lawyer could ever hope for. He was a great liberal judge: liberal, meaning he cared deeply about the real lives of the women and men his judicial opinions (and votes) affected, and was always guided by his belief in the great American values of liberty, equality, and justice for all.

Posted by: Jonathan Witmer-Rich | Mar 27, 2011 2:50:54 PM

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