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Judge Dies, Is Honored by Supreme Court Justices

New York Lawyer
September 28, 2004

By Tony Mauro
Legal Times

Richard Arnold, a widely respected judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who came close to being appointed to the Supreme Court, died late Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota at age 68.

When Justice Harry Blackmun retired in 1994, President Bill Clinton wanted to appoint Arnold, but decided against it because of Arnold's then-recent bout with cancer -- which recurred and was ultimately the cause of his death. Arnold, a 1960 law clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr., was active in Arkansas politics, but once he was appointed to a judgeship by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, he told people he was "not a Democrat, but a former Democrat."

Arnold, a gentlemanly optimist who almost always wore a bow tie, headed the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference from 1987 to 1996 and became known for his leadership in the judiciary. "He performed exemplary service for the judiciary through his work on the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference," said Chief Justice William Rehnquist in a statement. In 2000, Arnold launched a debate over the proliferation of unpublished opinions by ruling, in Anastasoff v. United States, that judges could not constitutionally prevent past opinions from being cited. "I don't know what judges are afraid of," he told Legal Times.

As a sign of Arnold's stature, eight of the nine Supreme Court justices issued statements after hearing of his death. "A brilliant, brilliant man, Judge Arnold was a model of humility and self-deprecation," said Justice Clarence Thomas, who as the 8th Circuit's "circuit justice" saw him often at conferences. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, herself a cancer survivor, said, "He coped with his illness with unrelenting courage. Others, including me, gained strength from his example." Said Justice Antonin Scalia: "His carefully reasoned and beautifully written opinions were models of the art of judging. He has been a friend of mine since the days when he finished ahead of me (and first in the class) at Harvard Law School." Justice Stephen Breyer called Arnold "a great judge and a marvelous human being," and Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "It is of great importance to the federal judiciary that it can continue to attract jurists of the stature of the late, splendid Richard Arnold. His intellectual interests were vast, his character upright, and his search for truth and justice unyielding."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said, "He always contributed his time and effort to improve the judiciary and to support efforts to help other judges around the world improve their own systems." Added Justice John Paul Stevens: "Richard Arnold was a great judge, a true scholar, a wonderful human being, and an excellent golfer. I enjoyed every minute that I spent with him and will surely miss him."


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