Judge Stephen Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has died at age 83, reportedly due to the Wuhan coronavirus. The statement of Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan praising his colleague is here. This tribute by Aaron Nelson includes moving praise from one of his liberal colleagues, Judge David Tatel. Williams was a staunch conservative.
Nelson’s article begins by quoting the following opening line by Judge Williams in one of his administrative law opinions:
In the Spring of 1985, as Mikhail Gorbachev was assuming the duties of General Secretary and inaugurating perestroika, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission launched its own restructuring of the natural gas industry.
The reference to Soviet history was both apt and unsurprising. For, as Nelson notes, Williams was a scholar of the Soviet Union and, indeed, the author of a book about it — The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution.
I know first hand about Judge Williams’ passionate interest in the Russian revolution. The first time I met the judge was at a small gathering, during which he showed an unusual interest in talking with me. Initially, I thought he might be a Power Line reader, but that wasn’t it. I doubt he ever read or heard of Power Line.
Instead, it was my Russian name that intrigued the judge. He wondered whether one of my ancestors was involved in the Bolshevik revolution. I said I thought Lenin had an underling named Mirengoff in 1917 who, perhaps, was him at the Finland Station, but I wasn’t sure.
I couldn’t really hold my own in the conversation. However, I must have shown enough familiarity with the topic, or enough interest in it, to keep the talk going for a while. We also discussed the revolution on two subsequent occasions.
In all, I probably spoke with Stephen Williams for about 45 minutes. That was enough to convince me that, in addition to being an outstanding jurist, he was a gentleman and a scholar.