“Judging changed me,” observed Hon. Richard Wesley ’74. “It made me a better listener. It taught me respect for divergent views. It called on me to be a witness to human tragedy and triumph.” Wesley, a judge of the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, was speaking at the Federal Bar Council’s annual Law Day Dinner, held in New York City on May 9. He had just received the Bar’s Learned Hand Medal of Excellence in Federal Jurisprudence, a prestigious award whose previous recipients include several Supreme Court justices.
In his remarks, Wesley expressed gratitude to his family and colleagues, observing "At each [stage of my journey], there was someone who added to my life. I am the sum of their kindness." He expressed special appreciation for his judicial clerks past and present. "I view my own clerks as collaborators," he said. "I expect them to speak their minds. And I must say, they regularly rise to the challenge."
Wesley noted that his clerks have added to the richness of his work as they have joined him in exploring such complex issues as the parameters of the president's war powers on U.S. soil, the possible liability of hand gun manufacturers for downstream illegal retail gun sales, and "the mysteries of anti-trust law."
"I cannot adequately describe to you how grateful I am for having these incredible people in my life," he said. "They come to Geneseo and Livonia for but a year, but they never leave us. They marry. They have babies-god, do they have babies-and occasionally they call with sad news, and we cry together. They have incredible life stories. Some have overcome unbelievable adversity. They bring a passion for the law that renews me."
Wesley has been deeply involved in the clerkship program at Cornell Law School, in addition to teaching classes and serving on the Advisory Council. He has mentored clerks from Cornell and elsewhere throughout his judicial career, which began in the New York Supreme Court, continued in the New York Court of Appeals, and, since 2003, has unfolded in the Second Circuit.
"I started my appellate career as a common law tinkerer, drawing the duty line for acts of negligence or charting the reasonable expectations of parties to a contract," he reflected at the Law Day Dinner. "Today I am a statute reader who thinks about comity and federalism, but on occasion I still get to enjoy a stroll through New York law. I have been a most fortunate fellow."
He concluded, "What enriches my life here as it did elsewhere is that my colleagues all approach their work in the spirit of good faith. That is what binds us and makes our friendships so dear. I will remember the joys of working with young lawyers in deciding cases and crafting opinions. I will remember the invigorating arguments made by some of our nation's top lawyers-some of whom are here this evening. And I will long remember, with deep gratitude, the warmth and affection that surrounds me tonight in receiving this award."