Shirley Hufstedler was a tiny woman, but in every other way she was a giant--intellectually, legally, morally. She was a feminist legal pioneer. One of only two female graduates of the Stanford Law School class of 1949, (1) she became in 1961 the only woman among 120 California state trial judges (2) and in 1966 became one of two women on the California Court of Appeal. (3) When she was appointed to the Ninth Circuit in 1968, she became the only female federal appellate judge in the nation and only the second woman ever to serve as a federal appellate judge. (4) In 1979 she was appointed by President Carter to be the first Secretary of Education. It's fitting that her hobby was trekking in the Himalayas.
Judge Hufstedler was one of the most respected and cerebral federal judges. Simply put, I revered her.
It's not quite accurate to say that she was a role model to me, because she was so talented, so capable, so energetic and hardworking that it was hard to imagine oneself ever measuring up. She once told me that she went back to work two weeks after her son Steven was born. Knowing how hard and what long hours she worked, I asked how she had balanced a demanding job with having a young child. She replied matter-of-factly, and not jokingly, "I just slept less." I had no doubt that was her solution, but it did make it difficult to imagine that I could follow in her footsteps.
Sometimes I wondered whether she really needed law clerks, or if having clerks was just another form of public service, allowing her to mentor and train young lawyers. (5) Unlike every other Ninth Circuit judge at the time, she never had her clerks write bench memos; she read all the briefs herself anyway and was faster and better at analyzing the issues than her recent-graduate clerks would have been. We were assigned to cases only after oral argument, when opinion drafting began. Rather than our preparing her for oral argument through bench memos, the Judge alerted us when we should be sure to attend oral argument to watch exceptionally good advocates argue important cases.
Indeed, we didn't even work on all of her opinions, only difficult or complex ones. In more routine cases, the Judge simply dictated her opinions. Some years later, I heard her testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and in the transcript her extemporaneous responses to questions are indistinguishable from her prepared remarks in their clarity and eloquence.
She was immensely capable in every possible dimension. After nineteen years as a judge, with only a secretary and two law clerks working for her, she was appointed the first Secretary of Education and was suddenly responsible for bringing a controversial new government department into being by merging more than 150 programs from the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare; Defense; Justice; Housing and...