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David L. Bazelon Papers

MSS.003

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Repository:
University of Pennsylvania: Biddle Law Library: Manuscripts Collection
Creator:
Bazelon, David L.
Title:
David L. Bazelon Papers
Date:
1941-1993 and undated
Call Number:
MSS.003
Extent:
71.3 linear feet (212 boxes, about 15,000 items)
Language:
English
Abstract:
David Lionel Bazelon (1909-1993) graduated from Northwestern University Law School in 1932. In 1936, Bazelon joined the United States Attorney's Office in Chicago, where he specialized in tax cases. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman appointed Bazelon to the newly-created United States Court of Appeals for the District Columbia, making Bazelon, at forty years old, one of the youngest people ever appointed to a federal judgeship. He served on the court from 1949 to 1984, acting as Chief Judge from 1962 to 1978. During this time the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was often considered the nation's second highest court. In his years on the court Bazelon was involved in decisions on matters ranging from the use of DDT to the definition of insanity. In the mid-1980s Bazelon stopped hearing cases and finally retired from the bench. He died on February 19, 1993, of Alzheimer's disease. The collection, 1941-1993 and undated, includes case files related to Bazelon's activities as judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, including case and subject files. The collection also includes papers related to Bazelon's organizational affiliations, speeches, lectures, and writings. The largest part of the collection comprises subject files related to Bazelon's legal and social advocacy activities, including issues related to mental health law. The collection also includes a series of personal and career files, as well as a selection of audiovisual materials.
Cite as:
[Identification of item], in the David L. Bazelon Papers, MSS.003, Biddle Law Library, University of Pennsylvania Law School.
PDF Version:

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Biography/History

David Lionel Bazelon was born in Superior, Wisconsin in 1909, the ninth child of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father had been a peddler who later owned a general store. He died when David was two, and shortly thereafter the family moved to Chicago, where David attended public schools. In the twenties he worked as a movie theater usher and store clerk while attending the University of Illinois and Northwestern University Law School. He was the first person in his family to go to college. Many years later, after he had been the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for several years, he admitted that his own childhood, spent in less than comfortable circumstances, contributed to the development of his well known sympathy for society's underdogs.

In 1932 after graduation from law school and admission to the Illinois Bar, Bazelon entered the private practice of law, but not for long. He joined the United States Attorney's Office in Chicago in 1936, where he specialized in tax cases. He handled the civil tax cases brought against some of Chicago's most notorious gangsters of the thirties.

In 1940 he returned to private practice, this time with the law firm of Gottlieb and Schwartz in Chicago. In a short time he became one of five senior partners in this firm of 32. He was by far the youngest senior partner. He was also an active supporter of Roosevelt and Truman, and became friendly with people connected with the Truman administration. In 1946 he left private practice for the last time to join the United States Justice Department as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Land Division. He soon moved to head the department's Office of Alien Property, where he oversaw the disposition of the assets of more than two hundred companies previously owned by Germans or Japanese whose assets had been frozen during the war.

In 1949 President Truman created fifteen new federal judgeships and David Bazelon was appointed to fill one of these in the United Stated Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. At forty years old, he became one of the youngest people ever appointed to a federal judgeship. From 1949 to 1984, David Bazelon served on this court, and for sixteen of those years, from 1962 to 1978, he served as Chief Judge.

During this time the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was often considered the nation's "second highest" court. Because of its location, this court heard not only the appeals originating in the District, but also appeals brought involving the ever increasing number of government agencies located in Washington. David Bazelon and his liberal colleagues on the court (in particular Judge J. Skelly Wright) set the tone for the court and also influenced much of the decision-making of the Supreme Court. Through the sixties most of the decisions from the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals which were appealed to the Supreme Court were affirmed. Of course, this changed in the seventies. With his former colleague, Warren Burger, as Chief Justice, and new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and newer conservative judges on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, Bazelon and his colleagues found themselves out of fashion.

In his years on the court Bazelon was involved in decisions on matters ranging from the use of DDT to the definition of insanity. His real interest, however were in the areas of the relationship of science to law, the rights of defendants (especially the rights of indigent defendants to adequate counsel), the rights of children, and the rights of those committed to mental institutions to treatment. From the late sixties through the seventies Bazelon served on many commissions and boards of organizations which dealt with these problems, and he gave numerous speeches and lectures on these subjects. He was on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry of George Washington University, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a regular lecturer at Johns Hopkins University. His speeches often stirred up controversy, which, of course, is what he wanted them to do. He was an activist on the bench and off. For years he was a pivotal figure in a circle of Washington D.C. liberals that included not only lawyers and judges, but professors, congressmen, psychiatrists, writers, and noted journalists.

In the mid 1980s Bazelon stopped hearing cases and finally retired from the bench. He died on February 19, 1993, of Alzheimer's disease.

Scope and Contents

The David L. Bazelon Papers, 1941-1993 and undated, include case files related to Bazelon's activities as judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, including case and subject files. The collection also includes papers related to Bazelon's organizational affiliations, speeches, lectures, and writings. The largest part of the collection comprises subject files related to Bazelon's legal and social advocacy activities, including issues related to mental health law. The collection also includes a series of personal and career files, as well as a selection of audiovisual materials.

Arrangement note

1. Cases 2. Speeches, Lectures, and Writings 3. Court Administration Papers 4. Organizational Papers 5. Meeting Papers 6. Subject Files 7. Correspondence 8. Biographical and Career Papers 9. Audiotapes and Photographs

Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Pennsylvania: Biddle Law Library: Manuscripts Collection,  2008

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Jordon Steele

Access Restrictions

The archives reserves the right to restrict access to materials of sensitive nature. Please contact the department for further information.

Access is restricted to portions of the David L. Bazelon Papers that remain unprocessed.

Use Restrictions

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Donated by Richard L. Bazelon as Trustee for the Trust, which was created in connection with the career of David L. Bazelon as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They were donated on December 30, 1986 and received on May 28, 1987.

Processing Information note

Processed by Melissa Backes.

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Controlled Access Headings

Subject(s)
  • Cases
  • Criminal Law
  • Insanity (Law)

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Other Finding Aids note

A folder-level container list is available offline in spreadsheet form.

Collection Inventory

Case Files, 1964-1981. 19 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

Memoranda, notes, intra-court correspondence, drafts of opinions, vote sheets, some briefs, and occasional extraneous material like clippings or pertinent articles. These documents give insights into not only the history of high-profile cases like the DeCoster cases or Environmental Defense Fund v. Ruckelshaus (leading to the banning of DDT), but also into the general decision-making process of the court.

Arrangement note

Chronological, then alphabetical by appellant within each year. In cases where the United States is the appellant, the file is arranged alphabetical by the appellee.

Box
1-57

Speeches, Lectures, and Writings, 1957-1984. 12 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

This series reflects Bazelon's continued interest in both legal and social problems like the social causes of crime and the relationship of law to science and technology. It also shows the interest of the legal community and the general public in the Bazelon's views on these topics. Drafts, memoranda, and correspondence are included in these folders. Also of interest are the lists of friends, former clerks, and colleagues to whom he sent copies of drafts. These lists give a good picture of the liberal circles in which Bazelon traveled. In some instances, for example a speech delivered in 1981 entitled, "Crime: Towards a Constructive Debate," which challenged Chief Justice Burger's views on how to handle crime in America, there are clippings of editorials, copies of articles pro and con, as well as correspondence.

Arrangement note

Chronological.

Box
58-93

Court Administration Papers, 1950-1985. 2.2 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

This series shows the bureaucratic side of the Bazelon's position as Chief Judge, including supervising defendants sent to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, implementing provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, and coping with problems with the court's switchboard.

Arrangement note

Alphabetical by subject, with one topic, titled "Criminal Justice Act," filed at the end.

Box
94-100
101
Folder
1-5

Organizational Papers, 1952-1985. 11.3 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

Meeting minutes, memoranda, and correspondence from organizations and committees on which the Judge served on a continuing basis, and they show a breadth of interest ranging from the District of Columbia's Model Schools program to the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections.

Arrangement note

Alphabetical by organization name.

Box
101
102-134
Folder
6-

Meeting Papers, 1966-1982. 2.6 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

Documents from meetings or panels to which the Judge was invited to speak or participate on a one-time basis, including materials related to congressional testimony.

Arrangement note

Chronological by year of meeting.

Box
135-139

Subject Files, 1941-1986 and undated. 22.5 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

Correspondence with colleagues and experts, and related articles, clippings, reports, etc., on a wide range of subjects including alcoholism, capital punishment, psychiatry, mental health, insanity, indigent defendants, and speedy trial. There is an extended correspondence on religion and a dialogue with then Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach on criminal interrogations, much of which became public just before the Supreme Court decided the Miranda case. At the end of this series is a subseries of 13 linear feet containing Bazelon's collection of Insanity Briefs. Some of the briefs are from cases that came before him, but many are from other courts. This subseries reflects Bazelon's interest in the concept of insanity and the insanity defense which started in the mid 1950s with his Durham decision and continued throughout his career.

Arrangement note

Alphabetical by subject, with one subseries, "Insanity," filed at the end.

Box
140-207

Correspondence, 1962-1979. 1 linear foot.

Scope and Contents note

Primarily invitations to speak or serve on panels.

Arrangement note

Generally filed alphabetically by sender, although there are a few general correspondence files.

Box
208-210

Biographical and Career Papers, 1946-1993. 0.5 linear feet.

Scope and Contents note

Clippings about Bazelon, letters of congratulations relating to his appointment to the Justice Department, memoranda about his appointment and duties as Chief Judge, obituaries following his death in 1993, and related papers.

Box
211
212
Folder
1-4