David Lionel Bazelon (1946-1947)
Early History/Schooling: David Bazelon, the youngest of nine children, was born in Superior, Wisconsin on September 3, 1909, to Israel and Lena Bazelon. His father died when he was two years old, and shortly thereafter his family moved to Chicago. Bazelon attended the University of Illinois, then transferred to Northwestern University, graduating in 1931 with a law degree. Throughout his schooling, Bazelon worked side jobs to pay for his education. Upon graduation, Bazelon went to work for a law firm and became active in Chicago politics. In 1935, Bazelon was appointed assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. He returned to private practice in 1940, until his appointment as Assistant Attorney General in 1946.
Tenure as AAG: In 1946, President Truman named David Bazelon Assistant Attorney General of the Lands Division. J. Edgar Hoover, an early friend and patron of Bazelon, encouraged him to take this position in the Justice Department and later supported his appointment to the judiciary. In 1947, Bazelon left the Lands Division to become administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Alien Property.
Career: In 1949, President Truman named Bazelon to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. At age 40, he was the youngest judge appointed to that court, and served as Chief Judge from 1962-1978. In 1979, he accepted senior status and remained in semi-retirement until 1985. In Environmental Defense Fund, Inc v. Ruckelshaus, 439 F.2d 584 (1971), (future AAG Jim Moorman arguing for the plaintiffs), Judge Bazelon ordered that the newly-created EPA suspend all uses of DDT. Judge Bazelon also made a number of influential decisions dealing with the rights of the mentally ill and expanding the right of defendants in criminal cases to be represented in court. He authored the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., overturning the Atomic Energy Commission’s issuance of a license for the operation of a nuclear power plant mainly on environmental grounds. In a highly critical opinion, the Supreme Court overturned the D.C. Circuit’s decision. 435 U.S. 519 (1978).
Personal: On June 7, 1936, Bazelon married Miriam M. Kellner, with whom he had two sons, Richard and James. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bazelon was also a member of the National Institutes of Health Advisory Commission and a lecturer in law and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Menninger Clinic. Bazelon died on February 19, 1993, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Division, please contact ENRD.