Post date: January 16, 2002 -- 9 a.m.
Langdell Professor of Law, Emeritus, Ernest Joseph Brown died on December 31 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 95.
"Ernest Brown was one of the true giants of legal education at the Harvard Law School," said Dean Robert C. Clark. "He served the School long and well, and was both a living legend and a dear friend. We mourn his passing."
A 1931 graduate of Harvard Law School, Brown returned to the school in 1946 as a visiting professor, then in 1947 as a full professor. He served as professor emeritus since his retirement from teaching in 1971. After leaving HLS, Brown worked for Department of Justice’s Tax Division. In 1981 he was presented the Justice Department Distinguished Service Award and in 1991, President George H.W. Bush honored Brown with the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award. He retired from the Justice Department in January, 2001.
The following are excerpts from the 1971 Harvard Law School Yearbook dedication to Ernest J. Brown:
In The Compleat Bok, the Harvard Bulletin reports that the new President of Harvard recalls his student days at Harvard Law School, as “difficult, arduous, and often unpleasant, but by all odds the most valuable part of my education.” Among law student Bok’s teachers, three stand out in his recollection for their special and enduring contribution to his growth. One was Ernest J. Brown, whom Derek Bok recalls as “simply a superb teacher, with a habit of mind and a set of intellectual values that meant a great deal to me.”
For a quarter of a century of law teaching, Professor Brown’s qualities have meant a great deal to law students without number. The integrity of his thought, the meticulous rigor of his analysis and the finish of his style have meant no less to his colleagues. Professor Andrews quietly expressed his esteem for Ernest Brown as a teacher and colleague in the simple dedication of Andrews casebook on Federal Income Taxation, “To E.J.B.” “He [Ernest Brown] thinks in paragraphs,” Felix Frankfurter once exclaimed.
From his birthplace and boyhood home in Lake Providence, Louisiana, Ernest Brown came to his professional career in the northeast by way of Lawrenceville School, Princeton, and Harvard Law School. Seeking a city of moderate size in which to begin practice, he chose Buffalo. Save for an interlude of one year with the legal staff of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration in President Roosevelt’s New Deal, he remained in practice in Buffalo until the outbreak of World War II. In law practice, he could and did fulfill his intense sense of craftsmanship; and it was there that he first began to explore the complex interfaces among tax, corporate and constitutional problems to which he later devoted his remarkable seminar in Taxation: Corporate Reorganizations and Distributions. Professor Areeda has described this seminar as one of the few at Harvard that consistently instilled both the highest standards of scholarship and the toughest standards of the critical and competitive lawyer. Outstanding in the opportunities it offered to the student for independent scholarly inquiry, it also compared favorably with the most rigorous of courses as a testing ground to prove a lawyer’s mettle.
Satisfying as Ernest Brown found law practice, he hungered for a wider and freer intellectual outlet. He found it to a degree in part-time teaching as a professor at Buffalo Law School, until World War II turned him into other channels. After a year with the legal staff of the War Production Board, he entered the Army as a private, and was promptly assigned to an Intelligence School for the intensive study of Japanese order of battle. At the completion of his studies, he was commissioned and ordered to the China Theater where he served for three years as an intelligence officer. On his discharge, Captain Brown returned to Buffalo to resume his combined career as practicing lawyer and law teacher. In 1946, he cast his lot definitively for academic life. Leaving law practice and Buffalo, he came to Harvard, where for twenty-four years his gifts as a scholar, practitioner, and teacher converged in his courses and seminars in Taxation and Constitutional Law.
…[In 1970] the Department of Justice…invited him to join its Tax Division as a Professor in Residence. He accepted, and throughout the current academic year, he has been advising his colleagues in the Tax Division, writing briefs, and arguing cases. Recovering his zest for the law, finding himself refreshed and renewed, he has decided to stay with it; and he has communicated his decision to Harvard Law School to take early retirement.
We don’t begrudge his new colleagues their good fortune. But he really belongs to us.
-- Milton Katz