Upon graduating from law school, I had the great privilege of serving as a law clerk to the Hon. Arlin M. Adams, who sat on the Third Circuit for nearly two decades. Judge Adams passed away last week at the age of 94.
The last opportunity I had to see the Judge was at a special exhibit earlier this year at the University of Pennsylvania Library, which reunited two of the few remaining copies of the Emancipation Proclamation that were autographed by Abraham Lincoln. History buffs may recall that in 1864, a few specially printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, autographed by Lincoln, were put on sale at the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia’s Logan Square (visible from your humble blogger’s office). And the occasion, merging history, Penn, Philadelphia, and an extraordinary legal document, was a perfect setting for an appearance by Judge Adams.
To the bench, Judge Adams brought an all too rare combination of brilliance, wisdom, civility, and insight. To his clerks, he was an invaluable mentor and teacher. There was arguably no better way to be introduced to the legal world than mine, as I walked each morning through the courtyard of Independence Hall where the Constitution was crafted, to work in the chambers of Judge Adams in the federal court house a block away. He was truly a scholar of substantive law and legal procedure.
His private practice and public service roles alone would mark him as a giant in the legal community. But it was his ability to be conservative and compassionate, a firm believer in the democratic process and a staunch defender of civil rights, in particular the freedom of religion, that marked his stature.
Susquehanna University has created the Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society at Susquehanna, and our alma mater Penn Law School established the Arlin M. Adams Chair on Constitutional Law in his honor in 2005. But his legacy may be found in more modest events. For example, appellate advocates can recount numerous examples of oral arguments in which young, new, or struggling advocates would find Judge Adams gently questioning them so their essential argument made it into the record — not because he agreed with them necessarily, but because their clients deserved to at least be heard.
Simple, modest, honest, Judge Adams was a child of the Depression, served in the Navy in WWII, and went on to become a great judge. While many of the articles on his passing will undoubtedly talk about the three times he was on the short list for the Supreme Court and not selected, to emphasize that would be to ignore the enormous influence he had on a generation of lawyers and the tremendous role model he should continue to be for future generations of lawyers and judges.