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Bickel, Alexander M.


BICKEL, ALEXANDER M. (1924–1974), U.S. lawyer and a leading authority on the United States Constitution. Son of Solomon *Bickel (1896–1969), Yiddish essayist and literary critic, Bickel was born in Bucharest, Romania, but immigrated to the United States at the age of 14. After graduating from the City College of New York and from Harvard Law School, he became a law officer in the State Department, and subsequently served as clerk to Justice Felix *Frankfurter. He joined the faculty of Yale Law School in 1956, and from 1966 until his death he held distinguished chairs at this institution. He was the author of a number of widely read books on the Supreme Court and on constitutional law: The Least Dangerous Branch (1962), Politics and the Warren Court (1965), The Supreme Court and the Idea of Progress (1970), and Reform and Continuity (1971). Bickel became nationally known when he represented the New York Times in the famous Pentagon Papers case before the Supreme Court in 1971.

In constitutional and legal philosophy, Bickel was a conservative, not a liberal-activist. In his basic orientation, he was a follower of Justice Frankfurter, who stressed the belief that the ultimate reliance for the vindication of interests and rights must be, not on the courts, but on other agencies of the democratic process. From this point of view, Bickel found many occasions to criticize various decisions of the Supreme Court during the years when Earl Warren was chief justice. His style was often sharply polemical and even strident. But like Frankfurter, Bickel was a liberal in his own political views. Thus, for example, though opposed to any form of racism, he opposed the use of bussing to help achieve school desegregation. His philosophy may perhaps best be associated with that of the Historical School of jurisprudence. In The Supreme Court and the Idea of Progress (1970), Bickel wrote that in dealing with problems of great magnitude and with complex roots and unpredictable offshoots, society is best allowed to develop its own strands out of its own traditions; "it moves forward most effectively, perhaps, in empirical fashion, deploying its full tradition, in all its contradictions,… as it retreats and advances, shifts and responds in accordance with experience, and with pressures brought to bear by the political process." In such contexts, he concluded, judicial supremacy is not possible. Bickel's book The Morality of Consent (1975) was published posthumously. He also wrote the first part of History of the Supreme Court of the United States: The Judiciary and Responsible Government: 19101921 (vol. ix, 1984).

[Milton Ridvas Konvitz)]

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