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Henry Jacob Friendly

Henry Jacob Friendly served for 27 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he won a wide reputation for his scholarly, well-crafted opinions.

Friendly was born July 3, 1903, in Elmira, New York. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1923 and from Harvard Law School in 1927. In law school he studied under Professor FELIX FRANKFURTER, later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, who recommended Friendly for a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice LOUIS D. BRANDEIS. After his clerkship Friendly entered private practice where he specialized in railroad reorganizations and corporate law. He later became a vice president and general counsel for Pan American Airways.

In 1959, President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER appointed Friendly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he remained until his death. Although Friendly was a semi-retired senior judge during his last years on the court, he remained an active participant and was involved in more than one hundred cases each year. He served as chief judge of the court from 1971 to 1973. In 1974, Friendly took on the additional duties of the presiding judge of the Special Railroad Court, which was established to deal with the reorganization of rail service in the Northeast and the Midwest that resulted from the BANKRUPTCY of the Penn Central Railroad and the former Conrail.

Friendly wrote nearly a thousand judicial opinions as well as a number of notes and articles on a wide range of issues, but he is probably best known for his work in the areas of diversity jurisdiction, CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, and SECURITIES LAW. Diversity jurisdiction refers to the jurisdiction that federal courts have over lawsuits in which the plaintiff and the defendant are residents of different states. Friendly first became interested in the subject when he was in law school, and one of his first articles was "The Historic Basis of Diversity Jurisdiction," 41 Harvard Law Review, 1928. Later, after the U.S. Supreme Court had established a new precedent for cases involving diversity jurisdiction (Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817 82 L. Ed. 1188 [1938]). Friendly wrote, "In Praise of Erie—and of the New Federal Common Law," 39 New York University Law Review, 1964. A few years later he provided an overview of federal jurisdiction in Federal Jurisdiction: A General View (1973).

During the 1960s Friendly became involved in the debate over changes in criminal procedure that were occurring as the U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of decisions, held that many of the rights guaranteed in the BILL OF RIGHTS applied to the states. In "The Bill of Rights as a Code of Criminal Procedure," Benchmarks (1967), Friendly expressed doubts about some of the Court's decisions and worried that they would cut off debate in Congress and the state legislatures that might have proved fruitful in developing new solutions to the problems of criminal procedure. He also criticized the decision in MIRANDA V. ARIZONA, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), on the ground that it was predicated on the unfounded assumption that all CUSTODIAL INTERROGATIONS are inherently coercive.

In the area of securities law, Friendly wrote more than one hundred opinions, several of them in the relatively new field of transnational law, which deals with corporations that have activities in several countries. He was also notably unsympathetic toward white-collar criminals who perpetrated financial frauds; in United States v. Benjamin, 328 F.2d 854 (1954), he observed that "[i]n our complex society the accountant's certificate and the lawyer's opinion can be instruments for inflicting pecuniary loss more potent than the chisel or the crowbar."

Friendly's colleagues respected him for his scholarship, his reasoning, and his self-restraint. In 1977, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President GERALD R. FORD for having brought "a brilliance and a sense of precision to American Jurisprudence, sharpening its focus and strengthening its commitment to the high goal of equal and exact justice for every American citizen." As another federal jurist, JOHN MINOR WISDOM, put it, Friendly was "unsurpassed as a judge—in the power of his reasoning, the depth of his knowledge of the law, and his balanced judgment in decision-making."


In 1985, Sophie Stern, Friendly's wife of 55 years, died. Despondent over her death and plagued by failing eyesight, Friendly took his own life in his New York City apartment on March 11, 1986.


Norman, Michael. 1986. "Henry J. Friendly, Federal Judge in Court of Appeals, Is Dead at 82." New York Times (March 12).

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