Judge Simon E. Sobeloff, 1894-1973

Introduction | Audio | Biography | Early Career | Baltimore Trust Investigation | City Solicitor | Return to Private Practice | Solicitor General | Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals | Sobeloff's Personality | Additional Resources

Simon E. Sobeloff signature.

Simon Sobeloff Biography

by Michael Mayer*

Author's Introduction:

Perhaps Judge David L. Bazelon said it best: "Simon Sobeloff was a wise and perceptive human being, a warm friend, and a great judge." Simon E. Sobeloff's career in the law spanned fifty-nine years, most of which were devoted to public service.

Listen to audio of Judge Sobeloff

These audio clips come from a collection of 13 reel to reel tapes donated in 2004 to the Thurgood Marshall Law Library by the family of Judge Sobeloff. These audio tapes have not been "cleaned" and are presented as they were originally recorded.

In clip one Judge Sobeloff has just been introduced as a speaker at the District of Columbia Bar Association meeting. During the introduction it is explained that Judge Sobeloff tried to beg off the speaking engagement due to a bout of laryngitis. Judge Sobeloff excuses his hoarse voice in telling a story about Mayor Broening that plays in part on accents in Baltimore City. ca. 1957. Clip One

In clip two Judge Sobeloff discusses the origin of the U.S. Constitution at a Rockville, Maryland Constitution Day Celebration, ca. 1959. Clip Two

In clip three Governor Theodore McKeldin introduces Simon Sobeloff and other guests at a testimonial dinner in honor of Sobeloff's appointment as Solicitor General. 1954. Clip Three

In clip four Speaker of the House Joe Martin recognizes Simon Sobeloff's predecessors as Solicitor General and speculates on Sobeloff's contributions. He concludes with brief comments on America's greatness. 1954. Clip Four

In clip five Simon Sobeloff's speech acknowledges the well wishes of the audience and relates several tales about his experiences with famous Washington and Baltimore political figures. 1954. Clip Five

From 1919 until his death in 1973, years which witnessed the great political and social upheavals of the twentieth century, Judge Sobeloff addressed himself to issues such as progressive reform at the city level, prohibition, censorship, the great depression, war, civil rights, civil liberties, legislative reapportionment, and reform of the criminal justice system. Consistently he took the side of the less fortunate and the persecuted. His close friend, Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, called him, simply, "the champion of the underdog." Above all, Sobeloff was dedicated to the belief that the law existed to see justice done. While recognizing that courts operate within the constraints of statute and precedent, he refused to allow technicalities and fine legal points to deny justice. Committed to insuring that justice did not belong only to the wealthy and powerful, he exhibited an activist's concern that the courts take an aggressive role in redressing grievances of politically impotent minorities. To his way of thinking, the legal system functioned best when racial, religious, or ethnic minorities, the poor, or the politically impotent received fair treatment.

Devoted to principle, he never hesitated to advocate an unpopular cause and often became the center of controversy as a result. Nevertheless, the Baltimore Sun observed that he managed to escape "most of the obloquy that is the normal lot of persons in public life." His personality and style had a good deal to do with the fact that a reporter, after reviewing "voluminous newspaper articles and editorials," found "almost nothing of a censorious nature." He was a kind and gentle man who avoided excessive partisanship. His family knew him as a devoted husband, loving father, and a doting grandfather. Friends remarked on his personal magnetism, loyalty, integrity, intelligence, charm, and wit.

Introduction | Audio | Early Career | Baltimore Trust Investigation | City Solicitor | Return to Private Practice | Solicitor General | Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals | Sobeloff's Personality | Additional Resources

*Biographical material is reproduced from a brochure prepared by Michael Mayer for the University of Maryland School of Law, 1980. Additional new material supplied by Professor Mayer, 2006.

Additional research and site development by Bill Sleeman, Assistant Director for Technical Services, Thurgood Marshall Law Library.

Text Only Version.

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