April 25, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 16

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    Obituary: Philip Kurland, College and Law School

    Philip B. Kurland, an internationally renowned scholar of the U.S. Constitution and a University faculty member for more than 40 years, died April 16 at Bernard Mitchell Hospital in Chicago. He was 74.

    A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 4, in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Stanford president Gerhard Casper is scheduled to speak.

    "Phil Kurland was the pre-eminent constitutional scholar of his generation," said Provost Geoffrey Stone, former Dean of the Law School. "He helped permanently shape our understanding of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, and he helped define much of the debate over the appropriate role of the Supreme Court during the era of the Warren Court."

    Kurland, the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the College and the Law School, is credited with fundamentally reshaping our understanding of the U.S. Constitution, particularly its system of checks and balances, the separation of church and state and the importance of judicial restraint.

    He was known by his many students and friends both for his intellectual brilliance and for his incisive wit. He was described by former U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin as one who "would go down in history as an outstanding Supreme Court justice if any president possesses the wisdom to nominate him for such a post."

    Casper, former Provost and Dean of the Law School at Chicago, portrayed Kurland in words Kurland himself had used to describe U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter: "A truly civilized man, confident in the strength and security derived from the inquiring mind, unafraid of the incertitudes."

    Kurland began his legal career after graduation from Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He served as law clerk for Judge Jerome Frank of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then for Justice Frankfurter. After working at the Department of Justice in 1946, he practiced law in New York City. He turned to teaching in 1950 and was on the faculty at Northwestern before joining Chicago's Law School faculty as Associate Professor in 1953; he was promoted to Professor in 1956. In 1973, he was appointed the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in the College, and in 1977, he was named Distinguished Service Professor. He won the University's Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1990.

    Kurland was a consultant to various entities, including the Conference of Chief Justices and the Department of Justice. From 1967 to 1974, he was chief consultant to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, which was charged with, among other duties, studying the Watergate break-in.

    He founded the Supreme Court Review in 1960 and served as its editor until 1988. That same year, together with Ralph Lerner, Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, he won the Gordon J. Laing Award from the Press for editing The Founders' Constitution, a five-volume set of materials on the origins of the Constitution. Other books Kurland wrote or edited include Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States (1951), Religion and the Law (1962), Of Life and Law and Other Things That Matter (1968), Felix Frankfurter on the Supreme Court (1970), Politics, the Constitution and the Warren Court (1970), Mr. Justice Frankfurter and the Constitution (1971), Watergate and the Constitution (1978) and Cablespeech (1984).

    Kurland received his B.A. in 1942 from the University of Pennsylvania and his J.D. in 1944 from Harvard.

    He is survived by his wife, Alice; daughters Julie, of Takoma Park, Md., Martha, of Summerville, Mass., and Ellen, of Washington, D.C.; stepchildren Julia, Michael and Thomas; and a sister, Arlene Shapiro of Bethesda, Md. His first wife, Mary Jane, died in 1992.