I had the great good fortune of working as a law clerk for Judge Richard Sheppard Arnold on the central staff of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit during Judge Arnold’s first year on the Eighth Circuit bench. He was a brilliant attorney with a self-effacing kindness and affability unlike any I have ever seen.
Judge Arnold graduated first in his class from Harvard Law School in 1960 and went on to serve as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Although Judge Arnold professed great love and admiration for Brennan, he also described to me the shock he experienced witnessing Justice Brennan’s frank willfulness with the Constitution at first hand in Brennan’s chambers.
Judge Arnold was born in Texarkana, Texas into a prominent political family and was active in Arkansas politics, where he befriended Bill Clinton among many others. He was a principled liberal and an old-fashioned Southern gentleman. In what must have been one of the few outstanding judicial appointments of his presidency, President Carter appointed Judge Arnold to serve on the Eighth Circuit in 1979; he was confirmed in early 1980.
Judge Arnold’s younger brother (Morris Sheppard Arnold) was also appointed to serve on the Eighth Circuit, though by President Bush (41). The judicial brothers tandem was the first of its kind on the federal bench, and thanks to a recently enacted federal statute will probably be the last.
Because of the lymphoma against which Judge Arnold had struggled since the mid-1970’s, Clinton passed over Judge Arnold for the Supreme Court appointment his many admirers (including me) had wished for him. Judge Arnold died Thursday at age 68 while being treated for lymphoma in Rochester.
This past November Howard Bashman posed 20 questions to Judge Arnold and elicited a set of answers in which Judge Arnold’s personality — his modesty, his candor, his courtesy, his decency, his intelligence — comes shining through. We shall not look upon his like again. RIP.
UPDATE: Reader Dr. Revels Cayton writes:
Richard Arnold was a dear friend. We did a Safari together with our wives and for sometime were involved in each other’s lives. I cannot think of another person with a combination of qualities that I admire more then Richard. Somehow through all the smoke of a turbulent Southern melodrama in the 1960’s, rough and tumble political life in Arkansas as a contact player, and his long standing, relentless illness, Richard managed to do what Gloucester tells Lear on the heath: “to see it feelingly.”
Reader Mark Arnold of the Husch & Eppenberger firm in St. Louis writes:
Although no relation to the Judge, I must have had 20 cases in front of him since he first went to the Eighth Circuit. He was the best judge I ever saw — brilliant mind and yet as pragmatic and as down to earth a man as you would ever find. And yet, as good a judge as he was, he was an even better person — modest, unassuming, a man of principle and conviction, yet always open-minded and willing to listen. I will miss him immensely.
DEACON adds: I never practiced before Judge Arnold, but I read many of his opinions and had great respect for him. His reputation as a jurist extended to Washington D.C. where, as Trunk notes, he was considered a serious candidate for the Supreme Court. I might also note that Mark Arnold, author of one of the tributes posted above, was one of the best college debaters of his era, as Rocket Man and I found out the hard way.