The University of Chicago News Office
April 17, 1996 Press Contact: Sabrina Miller
(773) 702-4195

Obituary–Philip Kurland, Renowned Constitutional Scholar

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

“Phil Kurland was the pre-eminent constitutional scholar of his generation," said Geoffrey Stone, Provost of the University of Chicago and former Dean of the Law School. “He helped permanently to 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 fundamentally reshaped 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.

Kurland 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. Senator 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.”

Gerhard Casper, president of Stanford University and former Provost and Dean of the Law School at the University of Chicago, in reflecting Wednesday on Kurland and his work , described him 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 to Judge Jerome N. 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 returned to New York City, where he practiced law, first with Milton Pollack, and then in partnership with Richard F. Wolfson. He turned to teaching in 1950, with a visiting appointment at Indiana University Law School. Kurland was on the faculty of the Law School of Northwestern University before coming to the University of Chicago in 1953. In 1973, he was appointed the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in the College, and in 1977, Distinguished Service Professor.

Among his academic honors and achievements, Kurland was invited to give many endowed lectures. He served as consultant to the Conference of Chief Justices, reporter for the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions, consultant to the U.S. Economic Stabilization Agency, consultant to the Department of Justice, and, in 1967-74, chief consultant to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, one of whose tasks was to study the Watergate break-in.

In 1960, Kurland founded the Supreme Court Review, which he edited through 1988. The books he 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). In 1987, he and Ralph Lerner edited a five-volume set of materials on the origins of the Constitution titled The Founders’ Constitution.

Kurland, a member of the New York and Illinois bars, was elected to the American Law Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Kurland taught constitutional law, legislation, legal history and many other subjects at the University of Chicago. For many years, he was of counsel to the law firm of Rothschild, Barry & Myers.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1921, and was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 with a bachelor of arts degree. He was graduated from Harvard University Law School in 1944 and received honorary law degrees from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Detroit.

His first wife, Mary Jane, died in 1992. Kurland is survived by his daughters, Julie, of Takoma Park, MD; Martha, of Summerville, Mass.; and Ellen, of Washington, D.C.; his sister Arlene Shapiro of Bethesda, MD; his wife Alice; and her children, Julia, Michael and Thomas. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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