Wyzanski, Charles E., Jr. (1906–1986)

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WYZANSKI, CHARLES E., JR. (1906–1986)

Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr., contributed to constitutional law both as a barrister and as a federal judge. He was the son of a Boston real estate developer and graduated with distinction from Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard College, and Harvard Law School. He had been attracted to law by a reading of Freedom of Speech, by zechariah chafee, jr. on the recommendation of professor felix frankfurter, he served successively as law clerk to Judges augustus n. hand and learned hand, whose broad cultivation, legal acumen, and largeness of spirit became the greatest influence on his professional life.

After a brief association with the Boston law firm of Ropes and Gray, and not yet thirty years old, he was called to Washington to be solicitor of the Labor Department under Secretary Frances Perkins. There he drafted the public works provisions of the Industrial Recovery Act and the Charter of the International Labor Organization. For the Immigration and Naturalization Service, then within the Labor Department, he drew up a plan for collective private guarantees of the welfare of immigrants, which unblocked entry into the United States; this remained his proudest achievement.

He was brought to the Office of the solicitor general in 1935 to strengthen the presentation of crucial New Deal cases in the Supreme Court. He had a central role in the government's victories in the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security cases in 1937, although when congratulated on his success he would reply that the cases were won "not by Mr. Wyzanski but by Mr. Zeitgeist." He had been on the point of resigning because of his opposition to the Court-packing plan, but was persuaded by Judge A. N. Hand to remain until he could present the government's arguments in these cases.

After returning to Ropes and Gray, he was appointed by President franklin d. roosevelt in 1941 to the united states district court in Massachusetts, where he served for forty-five years. As a judge he was morally demanding, bold, and courageous, sometimes testing the limits of judicial power, whether on the side of severity, as in municipal corruption cases, or of leniency, as in cases of draft resistance. Notable among the latter was United States v. Sisson (1969), where he rejected the defendant's argument that the vietnam war was an undeclared war and therefore unconstitutional, holding that this claim presented a political question. Wyzanski then set aside the guilty verdict on the ground, barely advanced by counsel, that the defendant's conscientious objection to the conflict, though not strictly satisfying the statutory religious standard for an exemption, nevertheless warranted acquittal under American moral traditions. In his judicial opinions, as in his probing essays and speeches, Wyzanski's search was for enduring, historically attested values.

Paul A. Freund

(see also: Immigration and Alienage.)


In Memoriam 1987 In Memoriam: Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr. Harvard Law Review 100:705–727.

Wyzanski, C. E., Jr. 1965 Whereas: A Judge's Premises. Boston: Little, Brown.