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The Federal Paper Chase: Judges' Papers in the Manuscript Division

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

District courts are federal trial courts that preside over civil and criminal cases under their jurisdiction. Appeals of their decisions appear before the court of appeals for their circuit. The Southern District Court of New York presides over federal cases that include the counties of New York, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, and Sullivan. Appeals to decisions from this court are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Provided below, are the papers of judges found in the Manuscript Division who presided over the district court.

Robert L. Carter Papers

“I was younger and more radical than many of the people Thurgood would have in, I guess. But he’d never let them shut me up,” Judge Robert L. Carter remembered years later about his boss and colleague Thurgood Marshall. Carter played an integral role in the NAACP’s battles toward desegregation of American life and played a critical role in developing the legal theory adopted by the Supreme Court striking down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Even as an elder statesman, however, Carter retained a critical eye regarding school integration and affirmative action. “Thus the fight goes on and the courts remain an important battle ground,” he wrote in the Journal of Negro Education in 2007. “Yet our enemies in the war to attain integrated equal education for all children have grown more sophisticated; they have co-opted and manipulated the strategies we employed and even the resulting principals we won to serve their own ends.”1

Joseph Papin, artist. Bamboo Union trial, Federal Court, Judge Robert Carter presiding. 1986. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to the United States District Court of New York in 1972, Carter continued to exert a critical influence on jurisprudence. Divided into two parts, the Robert L. Carter Papers span the years 1941-2006 with Part I focusing on the period from 1960 to 1993 and Part II concentrating on the years from 1941 to 2006. The former consists of correspondence, case files, hearing transcripts, speeches and writings; the latter is comprised of a broader selection of materials and is dispersed between six series: Cases, General Correspondence, Subject File, Speeches and Writings File, Miscellany, and Digital Files.

As a judge on the Second Circuit, Carter presided over many compelling cases including the 1975 suit by the American Basketball Association against the National Basketball Association alleging the NBA had conspired against its upstart rival. The case files in the collection, however, do not always document his robust career as a jurist. The Cases series consists of notes, memoranda, correspondence, newspapers clippings, and communications with other judges. The most notable cases that appear in this series are Bery v. City of New York (regarding first amendment free speech rights and street performers) and Prisco v. New York (pertaining to state environmental law).

Education historians and others interested in California history will also find documents related to Westminster School District v. Mendez (1946) a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education involving Mexican American students and school segregation in Southern California for which Carter served as an attorney. Additionally, the Subject File in Part II includes material related to his friends and colleagues Derrick A. Bell and Kenneth A. Bancroft (their papers are also located in the Manuscript Division) who also worked on school desegregation and other matters related to racial equality.

For historians of the American industrial prison complex (sometimes referred to as the carceral state), aspects of both Part I and Part II, specifically the Subject File of Part II, prove useful. Carter served on the New York State Special Commission on Attica, which investigated the prison riots at New York’s Attica Penitentiary in 1971. More generally, the Subject File consists of articles about Carter, biographical information, and his work with various organizations, panels, and individuals.

Finally, Carter’s Speeches and Writings File is divided into two subseries speeches and engagements and writings. In these files researchers will find oral history interviews, speeches, and unpublished materials such as Carter’s first effort at a memoir, “Trench Warfare: The Enduring Effort to Achieve Racial Justice Through Law” as well as “Law and the Black Community: A Profile in Failure and Frustration” and his 1941 master’s thesis, “The Three Freedoms,” which he utilized as part of his strategy in arguments before the Supreme Court. Numerous articles written by Carter on civil rights issues in education, law, housing, and employment also appear in this series. The Miscellany Series includes additional oral histories along with legal briefs collected by Carter. Digital Files are also available and pertain to Bery v. City of New York and QVC Network v. Christina Sportswear.

  1. Robert L. Carter, "Brown's Legacy: Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Education," Journal of Negro History, Vol. 76 No. 3 (Summer 2007): 240-249. Back to text

The following collection title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. A link to the collection finding aid is included when available.

Irving R. Kaufman Papers

In a 1978 article in the Yale Law Review, Judge Irving R. Kaufman argued against a proposed law in Congress that aimed to curtail judicial independence by setting up a system beyond impeachment upon which judges might be removed from office. Referencing and quoting justices and judges such as Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis and Frank M. Johnson, Kaufman vigorously defended a free-thinking judiciary. “Ideally, the modern judge should be, in the phrase describing Justice Brandeis, a master of both microscope and telescope,” he reflected. “Even in the most robust of health, the judiciary lives vulnerably. It must have ‘breathing space.’ We must shelter it against the dangers of a ‘fatal chill.’"2

Roger Higgins, photographer. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by heavy wire screen as they leave U.S. Court House after being found guilty by jury. 1951. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Kaufman’s support of judicial independence stemmed in no small part from his own experiences; he wrote the majority opinion in one of the nation’s most controversial cases, United States v. Rosenberg, the famous Cold War espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which ultimately resulted in their executions. According to his New York Times obituary, the controversial decision hounded Kaufman who many legal observers acknowledge established important jurisprudence in several other areas including civil rights, anti-trust law, and civil liberties (freedom of speech and freedom of the press).3

Appointed by President Harry S. Truman in 1949 to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Kaufman served for twelve years before President John F. Kennedy promoted him in 1961 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He would eventually become chief judge in 1973. He stepped down as chief judge in 1980 but continued to serve as a circuit judge until assuming senior status in 1987. In sum, Kaufman spent over four decades in the federal courts before his death in 1992.

Despite widespread acknowledgement of the influence of Kaufman’s rulings, the Irving R. Kaufman Papers include only some of his decisions. For example, the Southern District of New York series, which includes transcripts of testimony, charges to juries, opinions, sentences, and appeals, only documents fourteen trials during his tenure as a district judge but does include United States v. Rosenberg and United States v. Bonanno (the 1959 trials of alleged underworld figures who had met in Apalachin, New York). Additional material regarding the Rosenberg case can be found in the Scrapbooks and the Subject Files, both separate series in the collection and discussed briefly below.

Though several cases over which Kaufman presided such as Edwards v. the National Audubon Society (1977), Herbert v. Lando (1977), Berkey v. Kodak (1979), Reeves v. ABC (1983), The Nation v. Harper & Row (1983) are considered influential and, in some cases landmark decisions in areas of the law such as anti-trust (Berkey) and freedom of the press (The Nation), they are not well represented in the Second Court of Appeals series. The two case files that appear consist largely of memoranda between judges, but other materials in the series include affirmances, dockets, and opinions.

As evidenced by his Yale Law Review article, Kaufman wrote prodigiously and cared deeply about the culture and norms of the judiciary. “We make certain that there are numerous opportunities, such as our Circuit Conferences, for informal association and discussion. This contact is cherished, for it fosters the cross-pollination of ideas that is the genius of coherent growth in the law.”4 The Office Files subseries provide evidence of this belief and consist of Kaufman’s work for American Bar Association committees, the Juvenile Justice Standards Program, professional organizations, conferences and seminars, materials concerning the operation of the courthouse and the courts of the second circuit, reference papers, and correspondence with other judges.

Though the collection lacks a dedicated correspondence series, researchers will find it in the Subject Files. In addition to correspondence, the subject files include news clippings, material about Harvard Law School and other law schools, and topics of interest to Kaufman such as drug abuse and cameras in courtrooms. His numerous speeches and writings are located in the eponymously titled series, which are arranged chronologically, and include articles, book reviews, letters to the editor, research material, and speeches. Correspondence in this series pertains to Kaufman’s exchanges with publishers, readers or event organizers.

Lastly, as already noted, the Scrapbooks series includes material related to United States v. Bonanno, United States v. Rosenberg, and the northern desegregation case of Taylor v. The Board of Education. Kaufman employed a clipping service; therefore, many of the items in the final series are comprised of a diverse set of sources.

  1. Irving R. Kaufman, "Chilling Judicial Independence," Yale Law Review, Vol. 88 No. 4 (March 1979): 681-716. Back to text
  2. Marilyn Berger, "Judge Irving Kaufman of Rosenberg Spy Trial, and Free Press Rulings, Dies at 81," New York Times, February 3, 1981. Back to text
  3. Kaufman, "Chilling Judicial Independence," 681-716. Back to text

The following collection title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. A link to the collection finding aid is included when available.

Robert Porter Patterson Papers

In 1939, Judge Robert Porter Patterson’s appointment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was greeted enthusiastically, at least according to the New York Herald Tribune. “Judge Patterson is one of the most popular jurists in the building, and has been recognized as one of the most learned judges on [the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.]"5

Appointed to the District Court in 1930, Patterson served nine years presiding over cases involving mass transit, bankruptcy, copyright, municipal finances, and business law before his promotion in 1939 to the Court of Appeals. Assuming the bench during the emergence of the New Deal, he also decided cases related to the administration of its various agencies and laws. In 1935, he denied a challenge by eight corporations to the controversial Agriculture Adjustment Act. The Supreme Court later overturned his decision.

His service on the appeals court proved short lived. In 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt tapped him for the position of assistant secretary of war, ending his career as a judge, but not in the field of law, as the second half of his career after World War II dealt heavily with international politics, treaties, and law.

Though his life would be cut short by a tragic plane crash in 1955, the Robert Porter Patterson Papers span the period from 1909 to 1956 with much of the material concentrated on the years from 1930 to 1952.

Robert Porter Patterson, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing front, with Henry Ford (left) and unidentified man (right). Between 1940 and 1950. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Researchers interested in the prosecution of war and national security will be drawn to Patterson’s service in the War Department, first as assistant secretary of war, then as undersecretary of war until assuming the head position of secretary of war in 1945. Two years later he stepped down from that position to assume leadership of the Association of the Bar of New York as its president. Researchers interested in these aspects of Patterson’s career and the issues related to it should consult the following series: Speech File, Scrapbooks, Miscellany, and Under Secretary of War Files. Subjects covered in the correspondence, memoranda, and reports for the period include civilian versus military control of the wartime economy, military strategy, projected problems of the postwar world, and the difficulties involved in regulating and controlling a wartime economy. Patterson’s file on wartime cabinet meetings, which he attended as a representative of the War Department, is particularly notable.

Urban historians and legal scholars will find issues related to both in the Legal File series which documents his nine years on the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York (1930-1939) and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (1939-1940). The series contains briefs and memoranda on cases in which Patterson presided as a judge, correspondence concerning the cases, and notes taken or collected by him. Known for exacting levels of research and preparation, the series provides insight into his views on a variety of legal issues and subjects through his notes and law school notebooks from his time at Harvard Law School. Additional files documenting Harvard Law can be found in Harvard Law School Association subseries. The Correspondence series, divided into seven subseries, complements Patterson’s legal files as those letters corresponding to his court service provide a window into New York City and state politics. Finally, Patterson served as chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commission and the American Bar Association Commission on Organized Crime. Aspects of both are also present in the collection.

Following his service in the War Department, Patterson established the legal firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler. Researchers focusing on international law and politics will want to consult files related to Patterson’s postwar law practice. The Marshall Plan, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Common Market are all topics that appear in the collection. Additionally, Patterson served on a number of internationally facing or engaged organizations including the American Association for the United Nations, the American Committee on United Europe, the Atlantic Union Committee, the United States Committee for a United Nations Genocide Convention, the Committee on the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the United States Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government. The collection also includes a file regarding Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman and the Vatican’s war claims in the late 1940s.

One final note on correspondence, Patterson interacted with a number of major political and legal figures of the era, and the collection features many of them including Bernard Baruch, Benjamin Cardozo, Allen Dulles, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Felix Frankfurter, Charles Evans Hughes, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Herbert H. Lehman, George C. Marshall, Roscoe Pound, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S, Truman, and Robert F. Wagner among many others. Researchers should consult the last paragraph of the “Scope and Content Note” of the finding aid for a more comprehensive summary of Patterson’s correspondence.

  1. "Legal Experts Hail Selection of Patterson," New York Herald Tribune, February 10, 1939. Back to text

The following collection title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. A link to the collection finding aid is included when available.