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Statements from the Court about the Passing of Judge Laurence H. Silberman
Statement of Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan:
We on the Court are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear colleague and friend, Judge Laurence H. Silberman. A public servant of the highest order, Judge Silberman served the Nation with great distinction for more than half a century. He earned Senate confirmation for five different positions spanning an extraordinarily wide range of duties, he received the Nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he served on our Court for well over three decades. Judge Silberman left a profound mark on our Court and on the rule of law more broadly, and we have been privileged to witness his intense, abiding devotion to both. He was ever ready for spirited engagement and debate on any manner of issue, so often while bearing a signature twinkle in his eye – the image of which we will sorely miss seeing, and the spirit of which we will hold warmly and closely in our collective memory. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to Judge Silberman’s wife Tricia and to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchild, and extended family.
Statement of Judge Patricia A. Millett:
Larry Silberman was an intellectual and jurisprudential force of nature. Long essays can be and will be written on the brilliant legal mind of our dear colleague. Even longer essays could be, and no doubt will be, written about the hundreds of important and influential opinions he crafted on our court and their impact on the law. But what is even more remarkable, and a testament to his self-giving character, was that he devoted virtually his entire legal career to public service. He spent more than a decade serving in the Executive Branch, and then nearly four decades on our court. Throughout those years of service, Larry was passionate about preserving the rule of law and the fair administration of justice, and he devoted his life to advancing those values. A vigorous debater, Larry’s goal was always to get the law right as he saw it. It was a privilege to serve on this court with Larry and to witness his boundless energy and sharp mind constantly at work. This court will not be the same without him.
Statement of Judge Cornelia T.L. Pillard:
Larry Silberman had a formidable will and a restless, fierce intellect. But all a quaking advocate needed to know was that Judge Silberman welcomed a strong return of serve. He showed stamina in the back-and-forth, evident zest in landing a point, and—critically—genuine eagerness for powerful counterargument. In my first year on this court, I learned that Larry had made an historic choice decades earlier to withdraw his initial, decisive vote from a newly coalescing would-be majority seeking to reconsider en banc a spate of this court’s precedents. Larry’s act of statesmanship helped to reset a core norm of respect for panel decisions—a norm that carried through other sea changes on our court. Much will be said about Larry’s accomplishments. But as I have reflected on our colleague and friend in the days since his sudden death, I realize that what made Larry Silberman so influential and unforgettable are the qualities that made him lovable: his sociability, faith in ideas, and good humor. Larry and I often disagreed, but I always knew he cared what I thought. He bothered to call to ask. I usually got off the phone smiling—even when I was also shaking my head. We never stopped trying to persuade one another.
Statement of Judge Robert L. Wilkins:
I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our colleague, Judge Laurence H. Silberman. I greatly admired Larry’s highly consequential life as a practicing lawyer, Executive Branch attorney, ambassador, judge, and chairman of important commissions, among other accomplishments. He was a devoted servant to our nation, and his death leaves an irreplaceable void. I extend my prayers and sincere condolences to Tricia and all of Larry’s family, clerks and friends.
Statement of Judge Gregory G. Katsas:
Larry Silberman was of course a legal titan, but to me he was foremost a mentor, advisor, and friend. My first memories of Larry involve his mentoring my then-boss on this Court, Judge Clarence Thomas, some 32 years ago. During the ensuing decades, Larry began to offer me advice – often unsolicited – on everything from judicial pay increases to word limits for briefs. And when I joined the Court, his mentorship proved invaluable. Larry was brilliant, wise, seasoned, generous, warm, engaging, and witty. His stories are unmatched. Our friendship has been one of the highlights of my judicial service. May his memory be eternal.
Statement of Judge Neomi Rao:
Judge Silberman was a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. Always the principled jurist, he defended the rule of law with erudition and keen insight. I am grateful to have served with him on the D.C. Circuit these last few years. I will miss Judge Silberman’s mentorship and friendship but will take some solace and inspiration from his life of public service and unflagging high spirits. My thoughts and prayers are with Tricia and the Silberman family.
Statement of Judge Justin R. Walker:
Larry Silberman was brilliant, principled, and fearless. It is fitting that among his final words to the public was a call "to withstand the immense pressure to bow to conformity" -- a call he unfailingly heeded with courage and good cheer for five decades of public service. His passing is a loss for our court and our country.
Statement of Judge J. Michelle Childs:
Sadly I never had the opportunity to meet Judge Silberman in person as he was unable to attend our scheduled oral argument just last week. But you do not need to have known him personally to appreciate what an incredible impact he had both on the law and on this Court. He was the most dedicated of public servants and I can only hope to emulate his commitment to the D.C. Circuit.
Statement of Judge Florence Y. Pan:
I was deeply saddened to learn of Judge Silberman’s passing. While our time as colleagues on the D.C. Circuit was marked only by days, he had a much greater impact on my skills as an advocate than he will ever know. He presided over my very first oral argument as a young lawyer. When I made the rookie mistake of reading from my notes, Judge Silberman interrupted me: “Stop. Look up. Don’t read. Have a conversation with us.” It was a lesson I never forgot. I am only sorry that I will not be able to have more conversations with such a legal giant, and that I did not have more time to learn from such an extraordinary jurist.
Statement of Judge Harry T. Edwards:
I am very sad over the loss of my colleague, the Honorable Laurence H. Silberman. Larry and I worked together on the court for more years than any other two judges who have served on the DC Circuit. He was a brilliant jurist. One of Larry’s greatest contributions to the court came in 1987, when he reversed his position and voted to deny petitions for en banc review in Bartlett v. Bowen, 824 F.2d 1240, 1246 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (Silberman, J., concurring in the denials of rehearing en banc), and in two other highly controversial cases in which the court had initially granted en banc review. During the 1980s, the court was badly fractured because judges appointed by Presidents of the same party too often sided with one another seemingly out of partisan loyalty. Given the politics of the court at that time, and the public’s perception of our overly politicized voting tendencies, Larry’s decision to change his vote was as important as anything that I have seen during my 42 years on the court. He opted in favor of institutional integrity over personal ideology and political expediency. And the result in Bartlett helped to curb judicial tendencies that might have proven disastrous in the long run. It also helped to set the stage for our court to be recognized as a model of collegiality in judicial decision making. During my term as Chief Judge, Larry also used his influence with our colleagues to help ensure that ideological differences would not be significant in judicial interactions. His efforts paid huge dividends. And, as the members of the court were coming together, he graciously opened his home at the end of several terms to host festive dinner parties for the judges and our spouses or mates, during which we shared raucous tales about one another and laughed about the trying moments of the year that had just ended. I will always be grateful to him for doing so much to promote collegiality on our court.
I extend my deepest condolences to Larry’s widow, Patricia Winn Silberman, and the other members of their family. It was a great privilege for us when Trish and Larry asked me to officiate and Pamela to witness their marriage in their home in 2008. We had many joyous times with Larry and his first wife, Ricky, before her untimely passing. We feel doubly grateful that we were able to share many good times with Larry and Trish over the past fifteen years. Larry left an indelible impression on all with whom he worked. I am sure that he would be happy to know that he will not be forgotten any time soon
Statement of Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg:
My colleague and dear friend Larry Silberman was the model of a principled judge, an example and an inspiration. I first met Larry in the latter 1970s, when he was EVP of the Crocker National Bank and I was teaching a course on the regulation of financial institutions. He was generous in sharing his practical insights, informed by his experience not only at the bank but also in the Executive Branch of the federal government.
Our paths did not cross again until I joined the court in 1986, one year after Larry had done so. For the ensuing 36 years, we had a continuous dialogue – about cases we heard together, about other cases in this court, and about cases in the Supreme Court. Underlying it all, were Larry’s views about the constrained role of the judiciary.
Larry would occasionally organize lunch for us and our clerks, where we carried on the dialogue. In all of this, Larry was a teacher and not surprisingly, Larry taught law for more than 20 years while on the bench. He was a natural teacher as well as an exemplary judge. Like Chaucer’s Clerk from Oxenford, “Filled with moral virtue was his speech, and gladly would he learn and gladly teach.”
Over these many years, Larry and Trish became good friends of my wife and me. His passing leaves a big hole in our hearts.
Statement of Judge David B. Sentelle:
Judge Silberman’s passing will be noted as a sad day in our Court history. But it is a joyous day nonetheless because it requires us to remember that he lived such a long and productive life. He was a public servant of great and varied talent, something of a renaissance man of the law who could touch many bases with expertise. He was a leader and a mentor and will be sorely missed.
Statement of Judge Judith W. Rogers:
Larry Silberman was a dominant voice on the Court and in other phases of his distinguished legal career for his understanding of the proper role of federal judges under the Constitution. He will be greatly missed on the Court. His brilliant and piercing legal mind is evident in his judicial opinions and in questions he posed during oral argument, oft times with wry humor. He expressed a sophisticated understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various jurisprudential approaches and forced more rigorous legal analysis by those who adopted different views. I will treasure my experience as his colleague, including his many kindnesses over the years.
Statement of Judge David S. Tatel:
Larry Silberman was one of our nation’s finest judges. He was deeply principled, delightfully contentious, and a worthy colleague with whom to argue about facts and the law. I will miss him.
Former Judicial Colleagues
Statement of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Judge Silberman had a powerful legal mind, enormous energy, and a passion for freedom. Our country benefited greatly from that combination. And there was never a dull moment when he was in the room.
Statement of Justice Clarence Thomas:
Virginia and I are deeply saddened by the untimely death of our very dear friend, Larry Silberman. He was an outstanding juris, statesman, and counsel to many. But, most important, he was a truly great man. We are truly fortunate to have known him these many years and to have been among his friends. We will miss him greatly, but we will cherish our many memories of him. Our hearts go out to Tricia and their family.
Statement of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh:
Ashley and I are heartbroken by the passing of our dear friend Judge Larry Silberman. We extend our prayers and deepest condolences to Tricia and the entire Silberman family, and to all of the extraordinary former law clerks to Judge Silberman. In 2006, after Judge Silberman took senior status, I was honored to be appointed to the D. C. Circuit, and especially honored that I would hold the "Silberman seat" on that court. As a senior judge, Judge Silberman continued his judicial service with an active docket, and I was blessed to work with him for 12 eventful years. Judge Silberman had an unsurpassed understanding of how the three branches of the federal government work in the real world, not just in theory, and of the properly limited role of judges within our constitutional system. No judge was better able to see both the big picture and the smallest details of a case, and how both were essential when deciding the dispute in question. Larry was a great friend and colleague. He was a regular at the judges lunch table at the D. C. courthouse, and he entertained and educated me, and all of us, with his stories from prior government service and earlier cases. I cannot fully put into words how much I benefitted from his support, humor, wisdom, and sage advice on countless occasions, in good times and in bad. Just two months ago, I had a wonderful dinner with him, and he was his usual self - insightful, spicy, and full of great stories and wise counsel. Our last phone conversation occurred a few days after that dinner, and I remember it vividly - both the concrete advice and the humor. I will miss Larry Silberman dearly and daily. I will always try to live up to his example of service to the American people and the Constitution. May God bless Larry Silberman and the entire Silberman family.
Statement of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson:
In the time that we overlapped on the Court of Appeals, I often looked to Judge Silberman for guidance on that court’s practices and procedures, and he was unfailingly gracious, thoughtful, and welcoming. There is no question that he has had an enormous influence on the D.C. Circuit’s work, and the Judiciary as a whole. He will be sorely missed.
Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland:
Judge Laurence Silberman was one of the most consequential judges of the last half century, and his passing is an enormous loss. Larry and I were colleagues on the DC Circuit for 24 years and became close friends. He was deeply proud of his loving family, fiercely loyal to his friends, and a devoted mentor to his law clerks. Larry was a true public servant. We will miss him greatly.
Statement of Judge James L. Buckley (retired):
Over the past 50 years it has been my privilege to work with some remarkable human beings in each branch of our federal government. I can think of none who equaled Judge Silberman's combination of personal and professional excellence. He possessed all the qualities one hopes for in a public servant. Working with him was a true delight and I treasured his friendship.
Statement of Judge Janice Rogers Brown (retired):
I feel the loss of Larry Silberman as I would a member of my family. Everyone will say: "a legendary judge has left us." That is true. And over the years, the memory of his work, his unwavering commitment to the law and judicial duty, and his trademark wit will burnish the legend. But, I grieve the loss of my friend. We never got through a conversation without laughing out loud -- even when it was a critique. He was not just phenomenally well-informed and wicked smart, he was wise. His wisdom was rare and irreplaceable.
Statement of Judge Thomas B. Griffith (retired):
I shall dearly miss my colleague and friend Larry Silberman. I was in awe of Judge Silberman before joining the D. C. Circuit. Close scrutiny of an icon sometimes leads to disillusionment, but not so with Larry. My fifteen years working alongside him only increased my deep respect for his talents as a jurist and a public servant. One could have no better ally when he was on your side and no more fearsome advocate when he wasn’t. I was blessed with both experiences! In my second term on the D. C. Circuit, he and I formed the majority in the case that was known as Heller when affirmed by the Supreme Court. As the senior judge in the majority on that panel, I could have assigned myself the writing of that opinion, but wisely asked him to do so. Watching Judge Silberman craft that opinion was a tutorial for this new judge. A highlight of each term of the court was the off-the-record lunch my law clerks and I would enjoy with Judge Silberman. He was a raconteur without peer, and I wanted my clerks to spend time with a person whose life had been defined by the dedication of his extraordinary gifts to the service of our nation. I wanted them to be inspired by Judge Silberman the way he always inspired me.