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Wechsler, Herbert


WECHSLER, HERBERT (1909–2000), U.S. legal scholar. Wechsler was born in New York City and graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1931. A member of the Columbia Law School faculty from 1933 until 1978, he was at the time of his death the Harlan Fiske Stone Professor of Constitutional Law Emeritus. Wechsler specialized in criminal and constitutional law, and in the practice of law. During his career he served as law secretary to Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone and as counsel to Senator Robert F. Wagner, when the latter was minority leader in the n.y. State constitutional convention of 1938. During World War ii he was assistant attorney general in charge of the war division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Wechsler participated in the establishment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945, and then served as principal technical adviser to the U.S. judges in the Nuremberg war-crime trials. During 1941–45 he also served by appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court on the committee that drafted the federal rules of criminal procedure and on that court's advisory committee to revise its rules of practice. He was a member of the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, which reported in 1967.

In 1952 Wechsler was appointed chief reporter in the preparation of the model penal code, which was approved by the American Law Institute (ali) in 1962. He became director of the institute and also chairman of the permanent editorial board for the Uniform Commercial Code. From 1961 he was a member of the temporary commission of the New York State Legislature to draft a revision of the state's penal law and code of criminal procedure. Wechsler appeared as counsel in many important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as director of the ali from 1963 to 1984, after which he became director emeritus. In 1993 he was awarded the Institute's Henry J. Friendly Medal for his "outstanding achievement in promoting reform and clarification of the law" and for the extent to which his "outstanding intelligence, integrity, and devotion to the law enriched the areas of constitutional law, criminal law, and federal jurisdiction."

He wrote Principles, Politics, and Fundamental Law (1961), Criminal Law and its Administration (with Jerome Michael, 1940), Federal Courts and the Federal System (with Henry M. Hart, Jr., 1953), The Nationalization of Civil Liberties and Civil Rights (1968), and many articles in professional periodicals. Wechsler believed that "the main constituent of the judicial process is precisely that it must be genuinely principled, resting with respect to every step that is involved in reaching judgment on analysis and reasons quite transcending the immediate result that is achieved." Thus judicial review, if it is to be faithful to its function or its authorization, must operate in accordance with what Wechsler styles "neutral principles."

[Julius J. Marcke /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

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