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Series II: Justice Department Work
Series III: American Law Institute
Series V: Teaching and University Work
Series VIII: Writings
Series XII: Oversize Documents, Photos, and Ephemera
At a Glance
Material is arranged into 14 series: Series I. Education; Series II. Justice Department Work Sub-series A: Assistant Attorney General, 1942-1944; Sub-Series B: Board of Legal Examiners, 1942-1945; Sub-Series C: International Military Tribunal, 1945-1967; Sub-series D: Nuremberg Military Tribunals, 1946-1996; Series III. American Law Institute Sub-series A: Directorship, 1963-1984; Sub-Series B: Model Penal Code (MPC), 1941-2003; Sub-series C: General Files, 1940-1995; Series IV. Organizations; Series V. University Work and Teaching Sub-series A: Columbia University, 1934-1983; Sub-series B: Other Universities, 1956-1987; Series VI. Conferences; Series VII. Legal Work Sub-series A: Private Practice, 1937-1992; Sub-series B: Arbitrations, 1947-1963; Series VIII. Writings, Speeches, and Special Lectures Sub-series A: Articles, 1932-1995; Sub-series B: Books, 1933-1980; Sub-series C: Special Lectures, 1958-1999; Sub-series D: Speeches, 1941-1986; Sub-series E: General Files, 1934-1985; Series IX. Honors and Awards; Series X. Correspondence; Series XI. Subject Files; Series XII. Oversize Documents, Photos, and Ephemera Sub-series A: Photos and Prints, 1941-1970; Sub-series B: Large Materials, 1965-1984; Sub-series C: Largest and Odd Shaped Materials, 1928-1966; Series XIII. Family Papers; Series XIV. Closed Documents
This collection contains the papers of lawyer and legal scholar Herbert Wechsler. The various documentation includes Wechsler's work with the United States Department of Justice (including documents from the Nuremberg and International Military Tribunals), The American Law Institute (including thework of the Model Penal Code), Columbia University, and several other organizations to which Wechsler contributed or with which he was affiliated. The collection also contains papers related to Wechsler's legal work, including documents pertaining to his work on New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Wechsler's scholarly work is also collected here including drafts of articles, books, speeches, and special lectures such as his Oliver Wendell Holmes Lecture"Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law". The Herbert Wechsler papers also cover various points of interaction Wechsler had with other figures in his field including Francis Biddle, Telford Taylor, and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. The genre of documentation is primarily correspondence, reports, and writings with annotations. The collection also contains some ephemera and photographic materials and one audiocassette.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
his collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Series XIV is closed to researchers for personal or legal reasons.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Herbert Wechsler Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Processed by Craig P. Savino, 2009.
Finding aid written and created by Craig P. Savino, 2010.
Papers processed 5/2/1999 mmb
Papers appraised [date] appraiser
History / Biographical Note
Born in 1909, Herbert Wechsler entered the City College of New York at 16 and later attended Columbia Law School where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review. Wechsler graduated at the top of his class in 1931 and went on to serve as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone. After working for Justice Stone, Wechsler returned to Columbia Law School to teach courses in federal jurisdiction and criminal law. During this time Wechsler would collaborate with his colleague Jerome Michael, a partnership that yielded the casebook Criminal Law and Its Administration.
Wechsler's one leave of absence from teaching began in 1940 when he started working in Washington for the Department of Justice, first serving in the Solicitor General's office (1940-1941) and then as Executive Secretary of the Board of Legal Examiners (1941-1942). While working for the Department of Justice, Wechsler formed a personal relationship with Attorney General Francis Biddle, who eventually asked Wechsler to become Assistant Attorney General in charge of the War Division dealing with issues arising from World War II. One of the more notable issues Wechsler had to deal with in this position was reviewing the appellate arguments on behalf of the United States in favor of its internment policy for the case Korematsu v. The United States (1944). When Francis Biddle was appointed as the American Judge for the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Wechsler was asked to assist in the Justice Department's preparations for the Tribunals and he eventually worked in Germany as the Principal Technical Adviser to the American judges.
In the years following the war Wechsler returned to teach at Columbia and took on a joint class with Henry Hart on the Federal Courts. The class became the impetus behind a casebook by the two, Hart and Wechsler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System, which became a lauded book in the field and has gone through several editions. While at Columbia Wechsler also worked publicly, serving at the request of New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer as a member of the New York City Rent Commission and as a general adviser on the problems of rent control. Wechsler also worked for New York State on its Temporary Committee for Revision of the Penal Law and Criminal Code.
In 1952 Wechsler began his work as Chief Reporter on The Model Penal Code (MPC) for the American Law Institute (ALI), completing it a decade later. The MPC has since been used as a guide for most state legislatures and has helped in the standardization of codified penal laws in the United States. The same year Wechsler finished the MPC (1962) he was appointed as Director of the ALI. As Director, Wechsler presided over the creation of many studies and models produced by the institute including the Corporate Governance Project, the Second Restatement of Torts, and a Model Code of Pre-Arraignment.
In addition to teaching at Columbia and working with the American Law Institute, Wechsler worked as a private practitioner, with his most notable case being New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Wechsler successfully represented the New York Times as petitioner against the pursuit of a libel action by L.B. Sullivan, a city commissioner in charge of police in Montgomery, Alabama. The Supreme Court overturned the earlier judgment for Sullivan, convinced by Wechsler's arguments that the standard of libel for public officials and their conduct must come from statements made with actual malice as opposed to negligence. Wechsler also produced many speeches, articles, and books, including most notably his Oliver Wendell Holmes Lecture (and Harvard Law Review article) "Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law," written in 1959. Wechsler argued that judicial decisions must rest on reason and analysis (rather than concern for what immediate result might be reached from a ruling) and described "Neutral Principles" that could be applied. Using these "standards of neutrality" Wechsler criticized several Supreme Court decisions including Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, generating controversy within the world of law scholars as well as without when portions of the lecture were re-published in U.S. News And World Report.
Herbert Wechsler died in April of 2000 in New York City, lauded as a "Legal Giant" by the
Dillard, Hardy Cross, "Herbert Wechsler,"Columbia Law Review, Vol. 78, No. 5 (Jun., 1978), pp. 953-956.
"Herbert Wechsler, Legal Giant, Is Dead at 90."The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2000. Stable URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/28/us/herbert-wechsler-legal-giant-is-dead-at-90.html
Shapiro, David L., "Herbert Wechsler--A Remembrance,"Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 6 (Oct., 2000), pp. 1377-1383.