Bazelon, David L.

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BAZELON, DAVID L. (1909–1993), U.S. judge. Bazelon was born in Superior, Wisconsin, and was educated in Chicago. Admitted to the Illinois bar in 1932, he practiced law until 1949. In 1946 Bazelon was appointed an assistant attorney general of the U.S., and in 1949 President Truman appointed him judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often described as the country's most influential court next to the Supreme Court. At 40, he was the youngest judge ever appointed to that court. From 1962 to 1978 he served as chief judge, retiring in 1986 as a senior judge. From 1960 he was a member of the board of trustees of the Jewish Publication Society of America. In 1987 Bazelon's book Questioning Authority was published.

An authority on the relationship between law and psychiatry, Bazelon held several university lectureships, and in 1962 was elected honorary fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. As a member of the National Institutes of Health Advisory Commission, he was one of the key architects of early guidelines for genetic engineering. He expressed his particular interest in psychiatry related to the law as a lecturer in law and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Menninger Clinic. He was an active member of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, serving as its president from 1967 to 1970, and was the only non-psychiatrist included in the first U.S. Mission on Mental Health to the U.S.S.R. in 1967.

Rather than follow precedent set in a simpler time, Bazelon questioned the status quo and sought to apply new findings in the social sciences and psychiatry to issues the court faced. One of his landmark opinions from the appellate bench established the right of a mental patient to appropriate treatment in the least restrictive alternative setting.

At the forefront of the new legal advocacy was the Mental Health Law Project, formed by some of the lawyers and mental health professionals who worked on early cases. In 1993 mhlp celebrated its 20th anniversary by rededicating its mission to Bazelon and renaming itself in his honor. The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is a legal advocate for people with mental disabilities. Its precedent-setting litigation has outlawed institutional abuse and won protections against arbitrary confinement. For its clientele, the center's advocacy has opened up public schools, workplaces, housing, and other opportunities for community life.

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]