CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF ROBERT L. STERN

Eugene Gressman
Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina Law School
Co-author,
Supreme Court Practice

 

Now is the time for all good people to gather to celebrate the long and productive life of Bob Stern, a man I knew and worked with for nearly fifty years.

It all began on a day in 1949. I was an associate in the small labor law firm of Van Arkel and Kaiser, in Washington, D.C. I had entered such private practice in 1948, when I had completed serving for five years (1943 to 1948) as law clerk to Justice Frank Murphy of the United States Supreme Court, During most of those law clerk years, I only knew Bob Stern by reputation. I knew him mainly through his petitions and briefs that he signed as a lawyer in the Solicitor General's office, I was also vaguely aware that he frequently argued before the Court on behalf of the United States. My duties as law clerk precluded attendance at most oral arguments, and I was quite unaware of the fact that Bob had argued about 60 cases before the Court. In short, during my tenure as law clerk I never had an opportunity to meet or to know Bob Stern.

And so upon that day in 1949, when I no longer was a law clerk and when Bob was no longer in the Solicitor General's office, fate brought us together. On that day a representative of the Bureau of National Affairs (a well-known legal publishing house in Washington, D.C.) visited me at my law firm office. He stated that BNA, the short name of the publisher, was desirous of creating and publishing a guide book to practice before the Supreme Court. BNA wanted two authors, one who had argued before the Court on numerous occasions (that description fit Bob Stern) and another one who had operated behind the Court's curtains (a description that fit my five-year experience as a law clerk). Both of us accepted this invitation by BNA, and so was born a close personal and working relationship between the two of us.

That relationship was to last for the ensuing half century. We began by entitling our joint effort simply as Supreme Court Practice. I must say that Bob assumed leadership in organizing the first edition of this book, and we each then began researching and writing the chapters that Bob had assigned to himself and to me. Here was where I first learned of Bob's prodigious working and writing skills and his understanding of what practitioners need to know about the Court's processes. And it was in the course of creating the first edition of this book that we found that the Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court was anxious and willing to read over our drafts and to suggest appropriate changes. Such review by the Clerk's Office continues to this day. It gives our work product a semi-official gloss and assures those who use the book of the accuracy of our guidelines for proper practice before the Court,

The result of this Stern-driven operation has been both satisfying and productive. The first edition of Supreme Court Practice appeared in 1950; it was 553 pages long and sold for $7.50. The seventh edition of the book appeared in 1993, was 1064 pages long, and sold for $175-00. In between those two editions, of course, were five other editions, appearing in 1954, 1962, 1969, 1978 and 1986. But the increasing length and price of these seven editions reflect more than the nation's rising economic conditions of the past half-century, They also reflect the growing and ever-changing complexity and refinements of the Court's Rules for practice before that tribunal. Some Rules have been repealed or replaced; others have been altered or improved to reflect the changing nature of what the Court needs from those who practice before it. Thanks to Bob Stern's organizing foresight, we have been able to reflect all those changes within the original framework of the book.

Along the way of producing these seven editions, we gathered two other co-authors from the great pool of appellate lawyers at Mayer, Brown & Platt. I refer, of course, to Stephen M. Shapiro and Kenneth S. Geller, both of whom were selected by Bob Stern and both of whom have proved invaluable.

Although their work has proved invaluable, the prodigious efforts of Bob Stern remain the essential core of this work. And as we currently work on the eighth edition, hopefully to be released in this year 2000, we shall keep Bob Stern's his name as the lead author and dedicate this edition to his memory and his lasting influence.

All this effort by Bob Stern and the rest of the co-authors has produced a most satisfying result. The book is popularly known as the "Bible" of Supreme Court practices. Untold numbers of practitioners have profited from reading and following the practice guidelines and suggestions set forth in the book. The book itself is used to train many of the Justices' law clerks in their tasks of reading and evaluating many of the petitions and other documents filed by practitioners. Indeed, we have been told that some of the Justices themselves have found some use for this treatise.

The professional reviewers of the book have been most complimentary. One such reviewer wrote that "it should be considered prima facie evidence of malpractice for any lawyer, no matter how experienced, to fail to consult this work when preparing a case for submission to the Supreme Court." And on a less mundane level, another reviewer wrote, after reading the seventh edition, that this work "is indeed a monument of legal publishing," that it is "a beautiful, strong, functional, and imposing structure, high on a hill, shining in its achievement." I am sure that Bob loved such evaluations as much as I do.

While Bob Stern wrote other books and articles, and while he spent an eventful 14 years working in the office of the Solicitor General of the United States, I believe that this book. Supreme Court Practice, will remain as the crowning and indelible achievement of Bob's long and productive life in the law.

 

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