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The Honorable Charles Clark

Charles Clark was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on October 7, 1969, and he was confirmed eight days later.  Such a speedy confirmation would be unthinkable today, although legend has it that Senator Eastland helped the process along by scheduling the vote when potential opponents were otherwise occupied.  The story as I heard it was that the more liberal members of the Senate were attending an Earth Day event on the day of the vote, but it is more likely (assuming the story is true) that they were participating in Moratorium Day, a Vietnam War protest that took place on October 15, 1969.

Judge Clark became the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit in 1981, and served in that capacity until 1992, when he retired from the bench.  Upon the occasion of his retirement, Rodney Smolla, Dean of the William & Mary Law School and one of the Judge’s former clerks, wrote this fitting tribute: “At a time in the history of the profession in which lawyers and laymen alike are tempted to dismiss our judicial system as corrupt and cynical, Judge Clark stood out as immediate and irrefutable evidence that all is not hopeless:  Here is a lawyer in a position of power and influence who is compassionate, diligent, honest and thoroughly professional.  Here is a lawyer’s lawyer, a judge’s judge, a clerk’s judge.”

I had the privilege of clerking for Judge Clark during the 1985-86 term.  This probably was not the Judge’s favorite clerkship year, as none of his clerks were hunting or fishing enthusiasts.  But for me the year is full of warm memories of Judge Clark: sitting around the conference table as we discussed cases, observing the Judge’s incisive but unfailingly courteous questioning of counsel at oral argument, driving him back to Jackson from New Orleans in my Dodge Daytona (which was thankfully able to make it without one of its too frequent breakdowns).  Everything that Dean Smolla wrote was very true.  Judge Clark was the very model not only of a judge but of a Southern gentleman.

Judge Clark passed away on March 6, 2011.  He will be sorely missed on earth, but we can take comfort that he was a man of faith, who today is reaping the rewards of that faith.

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