Harold Leventhal was editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review, a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Harlan Fisk Stone and Stanley Reed, a war crimes prosecutor at Nuremburg, a warm and elegant well-read lover of art and music, and a distinguished judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the last fifteen years of his life.
During his years on the bench, Judge Leventhal’s opinions illuminated the whole spectrum of public and private law, including wide-ranging topics such as the defense of insanity, the First Amendment, jury nullification, curbing abuses in the handling of antiwar demonstrators, and ending tax exemptions for racially segregated private schools.
Two key questions for him were: Will it work? Is it fair? The son of a Broadway theater producer, his opinions (including occasional concurring opinions to his own majority opinions for the court) showed dramatic flare, wit, and a keen interest in new insights from the social sciences. He was a dominant influence in the development of administrative law, launching agency "hybrid rulemaking," creating the so-called "hard look" mode for court review of agency decisions, and conducting the administrative law "debate of the decade" with Chief Judge Bazelon of the same court in the 1970s about the proper approach for court review of administrative agency action. See Vermont Yankee v. NRC, 435 U.S. 519 (1978); Leventhal, Environmental Decisionmaking and the Role of the Courts, 122 U.Pa.L.Rev 509 (1974). But see also Thompson v. Washington, 497 F.2d 626 (D.C. Cir. 1973).
We in the practicing Bar, who have argued and discussed cases with him (including Pat Wald’s elevator argument!), remember him with respect and affection for his zest for the law; his specially-crafted, short-handled tennis racket; his unfailing courtesy; his incisive, hyper-articulate style of questioning during oral argument; and his enduring intellectual imprint on American law.