Richard Arnold, 8th Circuit judge, dead at 68

Monday, September 27, 2004

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Richard Sheppard Arnold, a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 1980, has died. He was 68.

The distinguished jurist was praised by former President Clinton and by Supreme Court justices.

Arnold had suffered from lymphoma and died on Sept. 23 from complications related to treatment for the disease. He died at Rochester Methodist Hospital in Rochester, Minn., with his wife and a daughter at his side, a family spokesman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Arnold, who lived and kept his office in Little Rock, took senior status three years ago, meaning he worked part time as a judge for the St. Louis-based appeals court. But he used the extra time to work on more substantial cases.

His brother, Morris S. Arnold, who served with him on the federal appeals court, called Richard Arnold an extraordinary person whose work was second to none.

“He was so careful and fair in his judgments that other judges frequently looked to him for guidance. That's extremely rare given the independence of most judges,” Morris Arnold said. “It wasn't a matter of having personal or political influence, it was just that his thinking was so clear and fair-minded that it carried influence with it.”

First Amendment Center Executive Director Gene Policinski noted Arnold’s extensive participation in the center’s annual National First Amendment Moot Court. “His enthusiasm and involvement and knowledge was an inspiration to hundreds of participating law students through the years,” Policinski said. “And he clearly relished the opportunity that the moot courts provided to test and consider various aspects of First Amendment law, noting on several occasions that such real cases do not often come before most judges.”

In addition to his Moot Court work, Policinski said, “Judge Arnold was a great example for his colleagues on the bench on how judges can work appropriately and effectively with the news media in communicating the work of the courts to the public.” In an interview published in 1998 in the Media Studies Journal, Arnold outlined how judges could assist journalists in reporting on judgments and other court action without violating standards of conduct, citing examples from his own career.

Polly Price, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta and a former clerk for Arnold, likened the judge to renowned jurist Learned Hand. Like Hand, she said, Arnold will be remembered as “perhaps the best judge never to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Arnold wrote the opinion for a three-judge panel that in March upheld a lower court ruling releasing the Little Rock School District from more than 40 years of federal court supervision of its desegregation efforts.

“It's an opinion of historical significance,” said Philip S. Anderson, a Little Rock attorney and past president of the American Bar Association. He called Arnold “one of the foremost jurists of our generation in America.”

Arnold was born in Texarkana, Texas, on March 26, 1936, to a family ingrained in the law. His grandfather was a lawyer and judge and his father was an expert in public utilities.

During Bill Clinton's presidency, Arnold was on the short list for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer. In his autobiography, My Life, Clinton said he would have nominated Arnold but was concerned about his health. Arnold had already received treatment for cancer.

“Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend, Richard Arnold. We will miss his wise counsel and warm wit and I will miss our golf games,” Clinton said in a Sept. 24 statement.

“We are also grateful for his remarkable life,” Clinton's statement said. “Richard will be remembered for his unequaled brilliance, character, common sense, deep religious faith, and devotion to the law. America has lost one of its greatest jurists and we have lost a cherished friend. Our prayers are with his wife, Kay, and his family.”

After missing the nomination, Arnold told the Democrat-Gazette, “I was relieved because I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore.”

Arnold had been mentioned for the high court before. In the 1970s, then-U.S. Rep. David Pryor recommended to President Richard Nixon that Arnold would be a good choice.

Early in his career, Arnold had worked for a Washington, D.C., law firm, but returned to Arkansas in the 1960s. In the nation's capital, he also clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.

The court on which Arnold almost served reversed him in one of his best-known cases. The appeal involved a lawsuit that sought to allow women to become members of the Jaycees civic club, which at the time admitted only men. Arnold sided with the Jaycees.

Writing in Legal Times magazine last week, Tony Mauro reported, “As a sign of Arnold's stature, eight of the nine Supreme Court justices issued statements after hearing of his death.”

“He performed exemplary service for the judiciary through his work on the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference,” said Chief Justice William Rehnquist in a statement obtained by Mauro, who provides Supreme Court coverage for the First Amendment Center Online.

Other quotes from the justices:

  • Justice Clarence Thomas: “A brilliant, brilliant man, Judge Arnold was a model of humility and self-deprecation.”
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “He coped with his illness with unrelenting courage. Others, including me, gained strength from his example.” Ginsburg is a cancer survivor.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia: “His carefully reasoned and beautifully written opinions were models of the art of judging. He has been a friend of mine since the days when he finished ahead of me (and first in the class) at Harvard Law School.”
  • Justice Stephen Breyer: Arnold was “a great judge and a marvelous human being.”
  • Justice Anthony Kennedy: “It is of great importance to the federal judiciary that it can continue to attract jurists of the stature of the late, splendid Richard Arnold. His intellectual interests were vast, his character upright, and his search for truth and justice unyielding.”
  • Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: “He always contributed his time and effort to improve the judiciary and to support efforts to help other judges around the world improve their own systems.”
  • Justice John Paul Stevens: “Richard Arnold was a great judge, a true scholar, a wonderful human being, and an excellent golfer. I enjoyed every minute that I spent with him and will surely miss him.”
  • At Arnold’s side when he died were his wife, Kay Kelley Arnold of Little Rock, and a daughter, Janet Arnold Hart of San Carlos, Calif.

    He is also survived by his brother and two daughters, Janet Arnold Hart of San Carlos, Calif., and Lydia Arnold Turnipseed of Syracuse, N.Y. Arnold also had four grandchildren.