December 6, 2007
Vol. 27 No. 6

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    Obituary: Currie shared ‘conversational magic’ with Law students for 45 years

    David P. Currie, a constitutional scholar and professor at the University’s Law School for 45 years, died Monday, Oct. 15. He was 71.

    “David Currie was the sort of brilliant perfectionist who gives lawyers and our Law School a good name,” said Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School and the William B. Graham Professor in the Law School. “He could dissect a case, statute or constitution so well, and with so much common sense, that one always left the conversation determined to be a more careful and thoughtful writer and speaker. And yet he would perform in his classroom with conversational magic and a twinkle in his eye that made interactions warm, rather than forbidding.”

    The author of 19 books and hundreds of articles, Currie’s intellect and acumen were widely recognized. Turning scholarship into practice, he authored the 1970 Illinois Environmental Protection Act and was the first chair of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

    Currie was born on May 29, 1936, in Macon, Ga. He received an A.B. from Chicago in 1957 and an L.L.B. from Harvard Law School in 1960. Following his graduation from law school, Currie clerked for Court of Appeals Judge Henry Friendly and then for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. He joined the University Law School faculty in 1962, becoming a full Professor in 1968. In 1977, Currie was appointed the Harry N. Wyatt Professor in the Law School, and in 1991, he was named the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School.

    Currie authored or co-authored three major casebooks on federal courts, environmental law and conflict of laws. He is the author of numerous articles in legal periodicals as well as various books, including The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (1994) and Air Pollution: Federal Law and Analysis (1982).

    Currie is perhaps best known in academic circles for two series of books he wrote about constitutional history. The first, The Constitution in the Supreme Court, was published in two volumes (1985 and 1990), each covering about a century of the Supreme Court’s interaction with the Constitution. The second, The Constitution in Congress, appears in four volumes, The Federalist Period (1997), The Jeffersonians (2001), and Democrats and Whigs (2005) and Descent into the Maelstrom (2005). He was working on the series at the time of his death.

    Currie also wrote a widely read book for non-lawyers, titled The Constitution of the United States: A Primer for the People, and in 2006, he recorded a reading of the entire text of the U.S. Constitution as a gift to the graduating class of the Law School.

    Currie has taught at the universities of Frankfort, Hanover, Heidelberg and Tübingen and the European University Institute in Florence. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985.

    Currie was a driving force in the creation of The Green Bag: An Entertaining Journal of Law, a member of its editorial board as well as a frequent contributor to its pages.

    Currie received the Law School’s Graduating Students Award for Teaching Excellence record four times, most recently from the Class of 2006.

    During his more than four decades with the Law School, his courses spanned the gamut of the Law School curriculum, including such courses as Property and Civil Procedure, a class he taught to generations of first-year students. He was a beloved teacher, never known for easy classes, but as a demanding teacher for whom students rose to the occasion.

    Currie also was well known as an accomplished singing actor and director, most notably of the works of his beloved Gilbert and Sullivan. Currie was an active member of Chicago’s Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company for more than 40 years, and it is said that he played nearly every male role in the G&S canon. Currie put his dramatic talent to use in the classroom to the delight as well as the edification of his students.

    A familiar figure in Hyde Park, Currie could be seen bicycling to the Law School, playing with his grandchildren on the lakefront or watching migrating birds on the Wooded Island in Jackson Park.

    “Currie was a beloved teacher,” Levmore said. “Students competed to be in his classes. He marched to his own drummer, showing little interest in fashions, and yet his style and substance attracted generations of students despite their apparent differences. He was proof that some things—hard work, careful reading, precision, stable government and the public good—represent timeless values.”

    Family members who survive Currie are his wife, Barbara Flynn Currie, Majority Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives (D-Chicago); two children, Stephen and Margaret; four grandchildren, Nicholas and Irene Currie and Katherine and David Treskow; his brother Elliott Park Currie; and his sister Carolyn Park Currie.

    Comments written by Currie’s former students, his colleagues and friends can be read on the Law School’s Faculty Blog at: http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2007/10/david-p-currie-.html.