Billings Learned Hand Billings Learned Hand (January 27, 1872- August 18, 1961)

Billings Learned Hand, known to the legal community as Learned Hand, gained notoriety as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The author of more than 4,000 legal opinions, he is the most cited lower judge by legal scholars and U.S. Supreme Court of all time. In fact, his opinions are so legendary, that most attorneys may be surprised to learn that he was not a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

He graduated from Harvard with Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Philosophy in 1893. He went on to graduate from Harvard law with the highest honors in 1896. After a few years in private practice, he was nominated to a federal judge position on the Southern District of New York district court in 1909. He served as a district judge until 1924, when he was nominated by President Coolidge to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He served on the Second Circuit until he retired in 1951.

Learned Hand's Legend

He was considered a political progressive, but also an advocate for judicial restraint. Regarding the difficulty of interpreting the constitutionality of statutes, particularly those that arose during the New Deal Era, he is quoted as saying of a judge's job:

On the one hand he must not enforce whatever he thinks best; he must leave that to the common will expressed by the government. On the other, he must try as best he can to put into concrete form what that will is, not by slavishly following the words, but by trying honestly to say what was the underlying purpose expressed.

In addition to his legendary status on paper, he was apparently also incredibly expressive of his dislikes, in that he had a habit of turning his chair 180 degrees on attorneys whose arguments annoyed him. This was in addition to other alleged displays of blatant sarcasm.

Although multiple members of the U.S. Supreme Court and judiciary expressed a desire to have Hand nominated to the court, the politics never appeared to be in his favor.

Facebook
Twitter