Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dan Meltzer [updated with further tributes from his colleagues]

Marty Lederman

I am deeply saddened to report that Professor Dan Meltzer died Sunday evening.  With her permission, I'd like to share what Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow wrote to the HLS faculty:
Colleagues, it is with profound sadness that I write to let you know that Dan Meltzer, our beloved friend, teacher, and colleague, has passed away.  No one has better exemplified the highest qualities of judgment, rigorous analysis, devotion to public service, and sheer kindness.  What a privilege it was to know Dan and to work alongside him!  Faculty and staff, deans and students, Presidents and other public leaders sought out Dan for his exceptional counsel and wisdom.  He made the world better in countless ways.  As a teacher and mentor to hundreds of students; as a trusted and thoughtful academic colleague; as an outstanding legal scholar and collaborator; and as a distinguished lawyer in public service and private practice, he demonstrated what it is to act with integrity, to reason with clarity, and to greet all with kindness.  With his remarkable wife Ellen and sons Joshua and Jonathan by his side, Dan battled his cancer with grace and courage and remained optimistic throughout, leaving us all with a model for how to bring our best selves to every day.  The absence of this great man, true mensch, and exceptional friend will be felt deeply and widely throughout our community, our School, our profession, and our nation.
Having had the great privilege to have worked with, and learned from, Dan, I can attest that what Dean Minow writes is not in the least bit hyperbolic:  every word is true.  As Dan's good friend and colleague, Solicitor General Don Verrilli, remarked when Dan took leave from his position as Deputy Counsel to the President to return to Cambridge five years ago, Dan possessed a rare “combination of intellectual brilliance, practical judgment, humility and decency.”

[UPDATE:  Jack Goldsmith offers a very moving and apt tribute over at Lawfare, in which he writes, among other things, that Dan "was immensely valued at the Harvard Law School, and in the Obama administration, and among friends, for the wisdom and good judgment that he brought to hard decisions in law and life.  Dan possessed the elusive ability to see a problem in the round, to dig very deep into the details, to appreciate in a detached manner the consequences of various proposed solutions to the problem, and to ensure that the course of action chosen (or recommended) always adhered to the higher principles that governed the issue."  Just so.]

[UPDATE:  The tribute posted on the Harvard Law School site includes the following remarks, fully consonant with those offered by Martha and Jack above, and reflecting just how rare and special a man Dan Meltzer was:

From his frequent collaborator Dick Fallon:
[Dan was]the wisest, kindest man I knew.  His superb judgment made him a font of wisdom in matters large and small, professional and personal.  Dan was the best professional colleague I could imagine: he challenged me and made me a better scholar.  He was also a marvelous husband and father.  He loved richly and was richly loved in return.  His loss leaves me saddened beyond words.
From his longtime friend and colleague Vicki Jackson:
Dan combined brilliance of mind and clarity of thinking with superb judgment, about law and about life.  This does not fully capture why so many of his friends (my husband and myself included) loved him.  Dan’s modesty and humor, his uncountable acts of thoughtfulness, his enormous love for and enjoyment of his family, and his great capacity for friendships, will be so missed.
And Dan himself, reflecting upon his service in government and, in particular, on his relationship with those of us in the Department of Justice, with whom he worked closely every day:
I never got to the point where it didn’t feel a little bit special to be walking into the West Wing every morning.  Among the things of which I am proud is the relationship that our office established with the Department of Justice, in which we sought to respect the department’s independence and our shared commitment to compliance with the law while also striving to ensure that the president’s views and concerns were given appropriate consideration when the administration was formulating its legal positions.]
[Further UPDATE:  From Matt Olsen, who worked very closely with Dan and the rest of us on national security matters in 2009-2010:
Dan tackled head-on some of the most difficult and consequential legal and policy national security issues facing the new Obama administration. He was the point person in the White House on Guantanamo detainees; on the scope of detention authority; on the interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists; and on surveillance issues. Dan approached these questions with a combination of common sense practicality and scholarly rigor and imagination. He was inquisitive and inclusive in considering the views of others. And he always seemed to home in on the crux of a matter, finding new ways to think about and resolve a problem. When we worked together on the review of detainees at Guantanamo, Dan brought a thoughtful and fresh perspective to the issues, applying both his law professor approach and his wise and practical judgment. Beyond this, he was unfailingly kind. Dan was the smartest guy in the room, but never made you feel like he knew it.  As a national security lawyer, Dan is a model for all of us, though it is hard to imagine anyone in the field matching Dan’s intellect, dedication, and integrity. As a person, Dan will be remembered for his humility, generosity and grace.]
I cannot help but add a final note--a relatively trivial matter, to be sure, on such a solemn occasion; but this is, after all, a blog devoted to matters of constitutional law and governance, and so it should not go unmentioned that Dan has, of course, had a deep and lasting influence on the way we think about, and understand, such questions.  He was, as my colleague Larry Solum notes, "a meticulously careful and reflective scholar."  It is fitting, then--inevitable, perhaps--that Justice Sotomayor cited Dan in her opinion for the Court this morning in Wellness Int'l Network v. Sharif, adopting a distinctly Meltzerian, functionalist reading of Article III.  I'd like to think of this as a little nod to--or from--heaven; but the truth is that it would be difficult or foolhardy to write a federal courts opinion without relying, implicitly or expressly, on Dan's impeccable and illuminating body of work.  (The Court has cited him almost 50 times.)

May the memory of this wise and humble and righteous man be a blessing.

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