Ely, John Hart 1938-2003

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ELY, John Hart 1938-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born December 3, 1938, in New York, NY; died of cancer October 25, 2003, in Miami, FL. Attorney, educator, and author. Ely was a well-known constitutional scholar and university law professor. Completing his undergraduate work at Princeton University in 1960, he earned his law degree in 1963 from Yale. Notably, while at Yale, he worked as a clerk for Arnold, Fortas & Porter on the Clarence Gideon case, which established the right of the poor to be provided an attorney when they could not afford one. After graduating, Ely served as the youngest lawyer on the Warren Commission before moving to San Diego to work as an attorney from 1966 to 1968. He then joined the faculty at Yale in 1968, moving on to Harvard in 1973, where his teaching was interrupted from 1975 to 1976, when he was general counsel for the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 1982, he moved to the west coast and Stanford University's law school, where he was dean of the law school until 1987 and a law professor until 1996. A love of SCUBA diving inspired Ely to then move to the University of Miami, where he was still working as the Richard A. Hausler professor at the time of his death. During his career, Ely wrote several influential books on constitutional law, most notably Democracy and Distrust: A Theory of Judicial Review (1980), and his opinions on the subject were so influential that he has become the fourth most frequently cited expert by legal scholars and judges. Ely's interpretation of constitutional law was that courts should adhere to its guidelines on procedure while not necessarily applying the same codes of ethics that were written down two centuries ago. He objected to judges who extracted or inferred moral values from the Constitution that no longer necessarily reflect today's more progressive beliefs. This middle ground, while still admired by many attorneys and judges, also led to Ely's being attacked by those on the extreme left and right. Ely was also the author of two other books on the Constitution: War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath (1993) and On Constitutional Ground (1996).



Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2003, p. B18.

New York Times, October 27, 2003, p. A21.

Seattle Times, November 2, 2003, p. A27.

Washington Post, October 28, 2003, p. B5.