Remembering Boris.

Author:Pollak, Louis H.
Position:Yale Law School professor Boris Bittker - Testimonial

Think back. Boris Bittker's life at the Yale Law School began as an entering student, in September of 1938, sixty-seven years ago, in the closing months of the deanship of Charles E. Clark, just before Dean Clark decamped for the Second Circuit.

When Boris graduated with honors in 1941, (1) he too decamped for the Second Circuit, to clerk for Jerome Frank. A year later, Mr. Bittker went to Washington. Boris was a government lawyer from 1942-1943 and again from 1945-1946. But what was Boris doing from 1943-1945? You won't find out in Who's Who. The answer is that Boris was in the Army, in Europe, in combat--where he was wounded. But evidently Boris didn't think it worthy of mention. He was not one to wear his Purple Heart on his sleeve.

In 1946, Boris returned to Yale Law School as an assistant professor. His return was somewhat reluctant. His teachers had voted to "call" (as the academy has been wont to put it) their highly prized student back to his alma mater. Boris didn't want to be rude to his teachers. But he really liked lawyering for the government and thought it reasonably important, and he wasn't at all sure that he would enjoy teaching. So Boris made a deal with Dean Wesley Sturges. He rassled Sturges into giving him a one-year initial appointment instead of the customary three years. And Sturges, to show his gratitude, threw in a sweetener: Boris's government salary was $8000. Sturges signed up Boris for $4000, which was only $500 below Yale University's prescribed minimum salary for an assistant professor. Boris really knew how to negotiate.

Assistant Professor Bittker found that he liked teaching--and sensed that his students approved. (We did approve, as did later generations.) Boris decided to stay for a second year. And then another, and another. Until, after thirty-seven years, Sterling Professor Bittker became emeritus-retiring from teaching so that he would have more time for scholarship.

Of the quality and significance of Boris's tax scholarship, the testimony will have to come not from me, but from those qualified to assess it. I will content myself with the submission that Boris's preeminence in tax law has no analog in other fields of law today or for many generations back. Even Arthur Corbin had Samuel Williston to contend with.

Putting tax aside, I will be so bold as to say a word about Boris's forays into another field-constitutional law. When I was a callow junior colleague, wondering what meager chance there was...

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