Oral History Project
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
Oral History Project United States Courts
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
District of Columbia Circuit
Interviews conducted by:
Steven A. Steinbach
May 22, May 29, December 4 and December 22, 2014
January 8 and 16, 2015

Oral History Agreements
Bruce Terris, Esquire……………………………………………………………………..iii
Steven A. Steinbach, Esquire……………………………………………………………..v
Oral History Transcript of Interviews:
1. May 22, 2014 One Person, One Vote………………………………………….1
2. May 29, 2014 Growing Up………………………………………………31
3. December 4, 2014 Counsel for the United States…………………………….75
4. December 22, 2014 Poverty, Crime, Politics, and Activism…………………128
5. January 8, 2015 Public Interest Lawyer………………………………….217
6. January 16, 2015 Reflections on the Law and on Life………………….….265
Table of Cases…………………………………………………………………………………..B-1
Biographical Sketches
Bruce Terris, Esquire ……………………………………………………………………C-1
Steven A. Steinbach, Esquire……………………………………………………………C-3
One: Article from The Journal of Supreme Court History………………………………D-1
Two: Bruce Terris Resume …………………………………………………………..…D-13
Three: Environmental Resume of Terris Law Firm….…………………………………D-19
The following pages record interviews conducted on the dates indicated. The interviews were
recorded digitally or on cassette tape, and the interviewee and the interviewer have been afforded
an opportunity to review and edit the transcript.
The contents hereof and all literary rights pertaining hereto are governed by, and are subject to, the
Oral History Agreements included herewith.
© 2015 Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.
All rights reserved.

The goal of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia
Circuit is to preserve the recollections of the judges of the Courts of the District of Columbia
Circuit and lawyers, court staff, and others who played important roles in the history of the Circuit.
The Project began in 1991. Oral history interviews are conducted by volunteer attorneys who are
trained by the Society. Before donating the oral history to the Society, both the subject of the
history and the interviewer have had an opportunity to review and edit the transcripts.
Indexed transcripts of the oral histories and related documents are available in the Judges’
Library in the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, D.C., the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and the library of the
Historical Society of the District of Columbia
With the permission of the person being interviewed, oral histories are also available on the
Internet through the Society’s Web site, Audio recordings of most interviews, as
well as electronic versions of the transcripts, are in the custody of the Society.

This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Thursday,
May 22, 2014. This is the first interview.
MR. STEINBACH: We decided to start today by focusing on the reapportionment cases, the
Supreme Court decisions from the early 1960s establishing the one person,
one vote principle. By way of background, we’ll focus primarily on Baker v.
Carr [369 U.S. 186 (1962)], in which you, Bruce, assisted Solicitor General
Archibald Cox in arguing to the Court, and then Gray v. Sanders [372 U.S.
368 (1964)], in which you helped prepare Attorney General Robert Kennedy
for his argument before the Supreme Court, and then a case in which you
yourself argued, Wesberry v. Sanders [376 U.S. 1 (1964)]. That’s just by
way of background. I wonder if you could start by summarizing from a very
high-level perspective what the reapportionment cases were generally about.
MR. TERRIS: The United States had a system that actually was borrowed from the British,
which the British called the “Rotten Borough System.” You would think that
all congressman or all legislators in a state legislature would represent
approximately the same number of people. The theory is that when you have
a legislature, it is representative of the public as a whole. Deliberately the
United States Senate is not that way, but the House of Representatives was
intended to be approximately that way, and the state legislatures were
– -2-
intended to be approximately that way. But what had happened over many,
many years – I think probably they started out roughly equal in the various
districts but they weren’t reapportioned. The legislative body involved did
not reapportion them as population shifted, and as population shifted, you
can end up with a district having a hundred times as many people as another
district, or even worse malapportionment than that. So the end result is a
legislature not at all representative of the public, and so it really was
fundamentally wrong in terms of what democracy is about.
MR. STEINBACH: This was a situation that was both at the national federal level with the House
of Representatives and the various state legislatures?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct. And almost all state legislatures and in most of the states’
House of Representative districts.
MR. STEINBACH: You first I guess got involved in reapportionment issues when you worked at
the Solicitor General’s Office. Is that right?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember when you joined the SG’s Office?
MR. TERRIS: I know precisely when I joined the SG’s office. I joined the office in a sense
in the summer of 1958, a year after I graduated from law school. I say “in a
sense,” because I got a job which was considered to be a temporary job in
which I was to be kind of the handyman of the Solicitor General, not to be
actually an Assistant to the Solicitor General, which is the title that most of
the people in the office had and I guess still have, but I was to do odd jobs for
the Solicitor General, help on his speeches and things of that kind. So I was
– -3-
not a regular member, and over about roughly the next year I became a fullfledged member.
MR. STEINBACH: So you were part of the Eisenhower Administration’s Solicitor General’s
Office initially?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct. People were not appointed on the basis of politics. Nobody
ever asked me what my politics were when I joined it.
MR. STEINBACH: Did the Eisenhower Administration have a role, even before the Kennedy
years, in formulating a government policy on reapportionment?
MR. TERRIS: Not on the merits. Baker v. Carr came up during the Eisenhower
Administration, the very end of the Eisenhower Administration, and the
Solicitor General then was J. Lee Rankin. He was my boss when I did
personal work for him and was still my boss when I became an official
Assistant to the Solicitor General. But yes, it came up during the Eisenhower
MR. STEINBACH: Did you personally have any involvement in the reapportionment decisionmaking in the SG’s Office in the Eisenhower years?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I handled this issue the entire time I was in the Solicitor General’s
Office. I was assigned this work not because of any special knowledge that I
had. It happened I was chosen to review the briefing in Baker v. Carr, and
once I reviewed the briefing of Baker v. Carr, every subsequent
reapportionment case, I handled the briefing in that case.
MR. STEINBACH: What position do you remember the Eisenhower Administration took on
Baker v. Carr when you were working on the briefs?
– -4-
MR. TERRIS: They had the position that Colegrove v. Green [328 U.S. 549 (1946)] that
held that reapportionment wasn’t justiciable should be overruled, that it
should be justiciable, and in fact, Lee Rankin’s position I think was probably
stronger than Archibald Cox’s was.
MR. STEINBACH: Archibald Cox comes in with the Kennedy Administration to be the new
Solicitor General, and you continued in your tenure in the SG’s Office?
MR. TERRIS: Correct. Everybody’s tenure continued.
MR. STEINBACH: Were you the primary deputy in charge of the reapportionment work in the
SG’s Office?
MR. TERRIS: Certainly not officially. I’m not sure that anybody knew why some people
were chosen for a particular case. It showed up on your desk, it was your
case. All the reapportionment cases after Baker v. Carr showed up on my
desk, presumably because I was thought to know something about them
having handled the earlier cases.
MR. STEINBACH: So Archibald Cox comes on board. What do you remember about him, your
interactions with him, what was he like as a person, as Solicitor General?
MR. TERRIS: First of all, in a sense I knew Archibald Cox from Harvard Law School. I
had taken Labor Law with him, so my first sighting of him was not in the
Solicitor General’s Office. Archibald Cox was a very brilliant man and a
tremendous oral advocate, the best oral advocate I ever saw. I think there
may have been a tie or two in the Supreme Court. Now I haven’t seen a lot
of Supreme Court arguments since I left the Solicitor General’s Office, but
he was a tremendous oral advocate. He had the ability to do something I had
– -5-
never seen anybody ever having the ability to do, and I suspect very few
people ever had, and that was he had the ability to lecture the Supreme Court.
That was his natural human posture.
MR. STEINBACH: And they let him get away with it.
MR. TERRIS: It would have been very difficult, very difficult, for them to not let him get
away with it. It was so much in his blood, it was like it would have taken
insulting him, it would have taken a scene virtually to have prevented him
from lecturing them. He was telling them what the law provided. There was
no doubt about what it provided, he was telling them what it provided. On
the other hand, he was not a man who had tremendous human connections
with people in the Solicitor General’s Office. He was definitely the classic
New England Yankee. I did not have many meetings with him. He was not
a man with a great sense of humor or idle talk. He certainly didn’t mention
what the baseball scores were yesterday. But he was a tremendous lawyer.
No question about that.
MR. STEINBACH: So your relation with him inside the office was largely professional rather
than personal?
MR. TERRIS: Definitely. Completely professional. But I think his relationship with
everybody in the office, even much more senior people than myself, was
completely professional.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you work with him on matters other than reapportionment?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I handled a wide variety of cases like everybody else in the Solicitor
General’s Office, but there were not a lot of meetings with him. I would
– -6-
review a paper, it would go either to the first or second assistant, which was
the progression, then it would go to him. I would very rarely talk to him
about a case. It came up from time to time, definitely not on a weekly basis,
probably not even a monthly basis, but once in a while there would be a
meeting or I would talk to him about a specific case.
MR. STEINBACH: So on the reapportionment discussion specifically, or the question about the
government’s position on those cases, how would you summarize
Archibald Cox’s overall philosophy or his overall thoughts about where the
reapportionment decision should go from his perspective?
MR. TERRIS: He was enormously sympathetic to Felix Frankfurter’s position, which was
of course essentially that the issues were not justiciable, and if they were
justiciable, that the Court should not be digging very deeply into the merits
even if it had gotten past the justiciability issue. My description would be:
when I went to law school, those at Harvard used to talk about the notion that
at Harvard you learned what the law was. You didn’t use the law for any
particular purpose, this was the law, the majesty of the law. The people who
went to Yale, they used the law to accomplish their various positions that
they thought were good things for the country. Archibald Cox exemplified,
perfectly exemplified, that idea of what Harvard Law School was about.
Therefore he approached reapportionment that you didn’t start by saying
what’s good for this country, what should democracy in this country really
mean. He really started with legal propositions that made him not very
sympathetic to the whole notion. But he was in a very bad spot because his
– -7-
two bosses, the President of the United States and the Attorney General of
the United States, had different views than that. So it was a difficult problem
for him.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s go there next. President Kennedy had actually taken a position on
reapportionment before becoming President. What’s your recollection of
MR. TERRIS: Right. From my standpoint, I had not talked to the President about it, it
occurred before I was even around, but it was of course well known that that
was the position and very strong position of the President of the
United States. That was background when we got to the legislative
reapportionment issues. When we were dealing with Baker v. Carr and the
cases about the legislative reapportionment issues, of course I knew what the
President’s position was, but there weren’t really direct run-ins or
disagreements with Archibald Cox at that point, it’s just that I knew how
reluctant he was. I knew how he wasn’t enthusiastic about it. There was also
another unusual thing going on because the New York Times correspondent,
both for the Supreme Court and for the Department of Justice, was
Tony Lewis. Well Tony Lewis had happened to write an article when he was
a Nieman Fellow at Harvard Law School about reapportionment, and he was
taking a position through this whole time period, he was not a neutral, he was
not a journalist, he was a vigorous advocate for reapportionment, and he was
talking to Cox all the way through this rather lengthy scenario and so that
complicated the matter too for Cox and really for the Department of Justice.
– -8-
MR. STEINBACH: Where does the Attorney General Robert Kennedy fit in this scenario about
MR. TERRIS: As far as I knew, he was not involved, and I don’t think he had to be
involved at the Baker v. Carr level. I might be wrong. If there were private
conversations between Cox and Kennedy, I don’t know about them.
Certainly if there were any conversations, I have no doubt what Kennedy’s
position would have been, which would have been a vigorous proponent of
the courts and therefore the Department of Justice getting into
reapportionment. Kennedy clearly got involved at the time that he argued the
only case, as far as I know the only time he was ever in court let alone in the
Supreme Court, when he argued the Georgia County Unit case. I assume that
Cox wanted him to argue that. It’s a normal rule – at least it was then, I don’t
know if it still exists – of the Attorney General handling one Supreme Court
case. Kennedy argued that case, I assume, without any friction with Cox.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s set the stage for that by focusing a little on Baker v. Carr, where the
Supreme Court ultimately held that these questions were in fact justiciable. I
take it you were involved in the government’s brief in Baker v. Carr.
MR. TERRIS: I reviewed it.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you write it or review it, or what was your role?
MR. TERRIS: I never, and none of my colleagues ever, wrote briefs. We reviewed them,
and sometimes and frequently reviewed them heavily, but we didn’t write
them. In fact, an interesting thing here, the only case that I can remember
clearly in which there was a brief written in the Solicitor General’s Office
– -9-
was the brief that was written by Archibald Cox personally on the standards
for state legislative reapportionment. I have it just a few feet from here, I
have the page proof of that brief in which Cox wrote on the front of it a note
to me which basically said, “Keep your hands off it.”
MR. STEINBACH: He wanted to write it himself.
MR. TERRIS: He had already written it. It was a page proof. But he wanted me to read it
because maybe there was a mistake somewhere, but he didn’t want me
editing his brief [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: So on the Baker v. Carr brief which you reviewed – and the government’s
position I guess was that these kinds of questions were not political and were
in fact justiciable by the Court – did Cox argue that case?
MR. STEINBACH: Were you there when he argued it?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, and he walked out of the courtroom and said to me, “Frankfurter’s
MR. STEINBACH: And Frankfurter was taking a position adverse to the government – what Cox
had argued.
MR. TERRIS: Right. I’ve been around a lot of lawyers in my more than 50 years of
practicing law, and people don’t come out of courtrooms and say the other
guy’s right. Your mind just won’t let you do that. It does not happen.
MR. STEINBACH: So Cox argues a position he doesn’t think is legally correct and wins the
MR. TERRIS: And wins the case [laughter].
– -10-
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have any sense what his reaction was?
MR. TERRIS: Years later looking at the whole package, not just Baker v. Carr, he said the
most important cases that he was involved in were the reapportionment cases.
I think he may have forgotten how much he waivered during this process.
MR. STEINBACH: So the government emerges from Baker v. Carr with a victory. These
matters are justiciable by the courts.
MR. TERRIS: An enormous victory.
MR. STEINBACH: And the next in line I think is the case you started to talk about a second ago,
the Georgia Unit case that the Attorney General himself argued, Gray v.
Sanders. Can you tell us what the Georgia Unit system was?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was unique to the country. I never have heard of any other system,
any other state, that had this system. They had maneuvered the
reapportionment question into the Executive Branch, and the way they did it
was essentially setting up something like the Electoral College. In other
words, you got a certain number of units for winning County X, but the
counties didn’t have units that were directly representative of how many
people they had. Like in the legislature over the years, the changes in
population resulted in rural areas having too many units, far too many units,
and the cities, and particularly the suburbs, having far too few units. So you
could easily win the governorship or any of the other executive positions in
Georgia not having a majority of votes or anywhere near a majority of votes.
So that was the issue: is that constitutional?
– -11-
MR. STEINBACH: So that’s the case that Attorney General Robert Kennedy argued, and what
you think is likely his only Supreme Court appearance.
MR. TERRIS: I’m almost sure it’s his only appearance.
MR. STEINBACH: You reviewed the briefs on that case.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you assist in preparing Attorney General Kennedy for the argument in
the Supreme Court?
MR. TERRIS: I did in a way, but I want to be very careful [as to what I did] – I spent maybe
an hour, maybe somewhat more than an hour with him. He may have had
somebody else giving some kind of help to him, although I tend to think
probably not. What I did was very light. I certainly didn’t write his
argument. I talked to him about the case, that’s what I really did, for an hour
or so. I say that because this is a man with no real experience, and he went
into the Supreme Court without notes, and he gave this argument, and it was
pretty good. I’m not going to say he was Archibald Cox. He certainly didn’t
have the posture of Cox to be able to lecture the Court in that same fashion,
but it was a pretty good argument. I can tell you when I went there on the
day of the argument and he didn’t have anybody sitting with him at counsel
table and when I saw he didn’t have any notes, I almost fainted [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: But he conveyed the essence of what you had hoped he would tell the Court?
MR. TERRIS: Absolutely. And he did a very good job.
MR. STEINBACH: How was he received by the Justices? Do you remember that?
– -12-
MR. TERRIS: I suspect the Attorney Generals generally, this is what happens with them.
The Attorney Generals come and this is a ceremonial argument, in a sense,
and the Justices know that the Attorney General is not a skilled oral advocate.
They’re obviously careful about what questions they ask; they don’t want to
look like they’re embarrassing the Attorney General, so it’s a little bit stilted.
MR. STEINBACH: What was your sense when you met with Kennedy to talk about the
preparations for the case about his convictions about the underlying issue he
was arguing?
MR. TERRIS: There was no question about that. He was fully into it. We’ll come to a
discussion later on about legislative reapportionment, when it became even
more clear in my mind about where he was coming from.
MR. STEINBACH: So Kennedy delivers the argument to the Court on the Georgia Unit case, and
is it your sense that he picked that case because of its significance and
importance to argue in his only Supreme Court appearance?
MR. TERRIS: I would think that probably Cox had recommended it to him. I tend to think
that Kennedy didn’t sit down with the government cases for that term, and
start looking through which one was the best. I would guess that Cox had
recommended it – and I think it was a good case for Kennedy to be arguing.
However it may also reflect that Cox wasn’t that into reapportionment. In
other words, Cox very much wanted to argue the big cases, and he argued
more cases, way more cases, than J. Lee Rankin. He used to argue two cases
in a two-week session. I think most Solicitor Generals have never done that.
It’s a very heavy burden. So he was really into arguing cases in a very heavy
– -13-
way, so I think there was a little bit of, this isn’t the field that I’m most
interested in.
MR. STEINBACH: And the government and Kennedy prevail in that case – and I guess you do
too since you worked on the brief – and the Supreme Court says that the
Georgia system violates the one person, one vote principle. Is that basically
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s focus on Wesberry v. Sanders which is when you argued a
reapportionment case to the Supreme Court. What’s at issue in that case?
What were the facts?
MR. TERRIS: The facts in that was the basic legislative reapportionment, but involving the
House of Representatives. And of course the House is divided between
states, and so you can get some pretty bad [discrepancies] in how many
people are represented in different districts just because of that division
between states, but that’s in the Constitution. That can’t be changed. So the
question, though, is within a state, and particularly states with a large number
of congressmen – California, New York – that what happened was the same
kind of malapportionment I was talking about before. You get some districts
that would have a couple hundred thousand people and then another district
that would have two or three times as many people. That would come from
changes in population and then the state legislature not doing what it’s
supposed to do to keep the districts relatively equal in population.
– -14-
MR. STEINBACH: This case rose from Georgia also. But this had to do with allocation of
national representatives in the House of Representatives, as you indicated. I
take it you also must have worked on this brief?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: You ended up being selected to argue the case – a very significant case,
because it’s the first time the Supreme Court is addressing the question of
national reapportionment. How did it come about that you argued the case?
MR. TERRIS: I have no idea [laughter]. All I know is somebody came to me and said,
you’ve been assigned to argue this case. And to put it mildly, I was more
than slightly surprised. I was the most junior person in the Solicitor
General’s Office. I was 30 years old, and it was the most obvious case for
the Solicitor General to be arguing. I’ve got to assume that he wasn’t
overjoyed with the case. It’s possible also that we – I forgot how much time
we had, we did not have the standard half hour. I think it may have been ten
minutes versus twenty, since the [lawyers] who brought the case had most of
the time. But it was very strange that some punk like me would have been
assigned to argue it [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: But you must have been gratified.
MR. TERRIS: Oh yes indeed. Absolutely.
MR. STEINBACH: And you knew at the time – or I guess I should ask, did you know at the time
how significant this case would turn out to be?
MR. TERRIS: Oh, sure. Yes. It was the first case on legislative reapportionment. It was
clearly going to have an enormous effect on the state reapportionments,
– -15-
which were also pending at essentially the same time. You didn’t have to be
a great student of American law to have figured out how important this was.
MR. STEINBACH: Had you argued in the Supreme Court on other matters prior to Wesberry v.
MR. TERRIS: I had. I probably argued about seven or eight cases by that point, none at the
same level of importance.
MR. STEINBACH: So you realized the significance – that this would be the most important
argument you’d had so far. How did you prepare?
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t really prepare differently. First of all, I knew an awful lot about the
subject. The Solicitor General’s Office in general, at least at that time, [did
not assign cases strictly by subject matter]. There was some idea of this guy
knows this much about this or had handled a prior case, but it wasn’t done
absolutely. I was handling every single reapportionment case. I don’t why
exactly that occurred, but it happened. Anyway, I knew an awful lot about
reapportionment at that time. And I basically prepared the way I had been
trained to prepare in the Office. Obviously I read the briefs very, very
carefully. I read the main cases and other supporting material very carefully,
and I read every case, to some degree, some of them were of much less
importance and I didn’t spend as much time on them, and then I wrote out the
argument. I didn’t do what Robert Kennedy did and show up in front of the
Supreme Court with nothing in front of me [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: So when you went into the room, did you have some sense which Justices
were with you, which were against, whether you’d win, whether you’d lose?
– -16-
MR. TERRIS: Absolutely. In my lifetime at least, it’s been obvious in most of the cases in
the Supreme Court where most of the Justices line up, that yes, when you
walk in there, you have a very good idea who your friends are.
MR. STEINBACH: So what was your sense when you walked in, that you were going to be well
received by the Court, or that this was an uphill struggle?
MR. TERRIS: We took a very limited position, which I can’t say that I remember exactly
what the conversations were fifty years ago, but [we] were very nervous
about not biting off more than we thought the Supreme Court could chew.
Our argument that the case should be sent back so that the District Court
could reconsider this problem certainly meant that we were not totally
confident that we could prevail head-on on one man, one vote.
MR. STEINBACH: The Government’s position was that what had been structured in Georgia for
the Federal house seats was wrong, unconstitutional, but needed to be
addressed –
MR. TERRIS: Actually, not. We did not ask the Supreme Court to say as much as you did,
but to say that it should go back to the District Court, which had not
considered the merits of the constitutional argument, in order to consider the
merits. We were obviously playing for time. It would start there, go to the
Court of Appeals, and end up in the Supreme Court, but that we weren’t
ready to make the full-out argument.
MR. STEINBACH: When you argued in front of the Court, did you have the sense that some of
the Justices wanted to go further than maybe the Government was
– -17-
MR. TERRIS: I can’t really remember, but I’m sure I must have, because the Supreme
Court is always a very open discussion. There’s not too much concealment
of people’s views in Supreme Court arguments.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell me what you remember about that argument.
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember very much, that’s the strange thing. I was enough of an
experienced advocate by that point so that I was perfectly confident being in
the Supreme Court. A lot of people would say, you must be so nervous, but I
really wasn’t. The rush of adrenaline once you’re in front of the Supreme
Court is such that it really wouldn’t have mattered whether it was the
Supreme Court or a magistrate court somewhere.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember any particular exchanges or banter with any of the
MR. TERRIS: I don’t.
MR. STEINBACH: How did you think you did?
MR. TERRIS: I basically thought I was a pretty adequate Supreme Court advocate. Maybe
some other people didn’t, but I thought I could handle it.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you leave the Wesberry argument feeling that your arguments had been
well received?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, I definitely did. And I also thought there was a substantial chance the
Court was going to go beyond our position. In a sense, we had planned it
that way, to the extent that by taking the limited position, we thought if there
were Justices ready to go where we wanted them to go, they would bite.
– -18-
They would go on. In other words, we did nothing to be persuading them
“don’t do it.” We were just saying, you should be doing at least this much.
MR. STEINBACH: You argued this in November 1963 and the decision comes down in February
1964. Were you present in the Court when the decision came down?
MR. TERRIS: My guess is that I was, because the people in the Solicitor General’s Office at
that time, the announcements, I believe, were always on Monday, and we
went up every Monday.
MR. STEINBACH: The Supreme Court decided what in the Wesberry decision?
MR. TERRIS: Essentially it had to be equal. It didn’t have to be strictly equal; nobody
would [complain about] differentiations in population [of a couple thousand].
And you might also have some other reasons [for differentiations] like
county lines and things of that kind. But it was essentially one man, one
MR. STEINBACH: Applied to the House of Representatives.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember at all Justice John Marshall Harlan’s statement in Court
that day?
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t remember it until you had me read it.
MR. STEINBACH: I’ll just quote it. Justice Harlan said, “I consider this occasion certainly the
most solemn since I have been on the Court, and I think one would have to
search the pages of history to find a case whose importance equals what we
have decided today.”*
He wrote that in dissent, obviously very troubled by

Lewis, Anthony. “Wide Changes Due.” New York Times, February 18, 1964.
– -19-
what he considered quite a significant decision by the Court. Your
reflections on that?
MR. TERRIS: Well it’s interesting. When you had me read that, I thought about it for a
while. In many ways, of the people who served on the Court when I was
arguing regularly, the Justice I admired the most was Justice Harlan.
Because I guess I had been heavily influenced by my Harvard Law School
training in that I, to a considerable degree, maybe not as much as Archibald
Cox, but to a considerable degree, I had that idea that the law is not just to be
a weapon for whatever happens to be my political view. In deciding the
Justices I admired the most, my calculus was the number of times that they
voted on the Court differently than they would have voted in the Congress. I
often got Harlan’s vote. Most of the cases I argued I lost 5 to 4, with the
usual 5 to 4 split, and I usually got his vote – but I often thought that if he
had been in Congress, he would have voted differently than he voted in the
Supreme Court.
MR. STEINBACH: So that he would have favored the principle of one person, one vote, but
didn’t think it was constitutionally mandated.
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct. That’s just a guess on my part.
MR. STEINBACH: Were you surprised at the breadth of the Supreme Court’s decision in
Wesberry, going beyond what the Government had recommended and
actually declaring unconstitutional the lack of equality in House seats?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know that I would say “surprised.” We certainly were doubtful about
that. As I said before, if we’d been fully confident that that’s where we
– -20-
thought the Court was going to go, we wouldn’t have had this idea of sending
it back to the District Court in Georgia and have it move slowly up through
the courts. But on the other hand, I’m not sure that we thought it was a
tremendous surprise either. And I think that we thought that our strategy was
a good strategy – it might very well come out this way.
MR. STEINBACH: I noticed that you argued the Wesberry case on November 19, 1963, which
was three days before John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Any
recollections of what it was like inside the Solicitor General’s office or inside
the government when you heard that news?
MR. TERRIS: I do have a recollection, interestingly enough given the discussion we’re
having today. I had a radio, an old beat up radio, in my office. Most people
didn’t. I didn’t play it, but somebody came into the office and said the
President had been shot. In fact the person who came into my office and said
that and said I should start playing it was Steve Pollak. Obviously we were
shocked, which is an understatement. It was grim. The attitude in the
Solicitor General’s office during that Administration was so positive about
the kind of work that we were doing, the work on civil rights, the work on
other kinds of things – the feeling of working for the federal government in
the Kennedy Administration was just a tremendous feeling. And to have this
unbelievable event occur, it was really horrible, just horrible. People were
just not working for the government; it really was a sense of something very,
very special.
– -21-
And by the way, this is a different topic but it’s why I think people
have badly misjudged the Kennedy Administration. I think that attitude in
the government and in the country as a whole was far more important than
whether he got eight bills through Congress or fifteen bills through Congress.
It’s a tremendous ability to move the country. This year, with President
Obama, if President Obama had some more of that, I think one would feel the
difference enormously.
MR. STEINBACH: This is a great topic that we’re going to spend some time on in future
sessions, your whole sense of the Kennedy Justice years, your work after you
leave the Justice Department for Robert Kennedy himself. I think there’s so
much to explore we can come back to.
After John Kennedy is no longer President, the reapportionment battles
still continue, and in fact the Wesberry decision is handed down in February
when Lyndon Johnson is now the President and the Attorney General is still
Robert Kennedy. Is that correct?
MR. STEINBACH: So the next step in terms of these issues is whether the one person, one vote
principle should be applied to state legislatures, both state houses of
representatives and state senates. I take it that there was a lot of angst inside
the Solicitor General’s office about that particular question. What’s your
recollection of that?
MR. TERRIS: Of all the issues, except for the sit-in cases, which also had a tremendous
amount of controversy about them and which I did not handle, the one man,
– -22-
one vote principle with regards to the state legislatures had, in my experience
– I’m sure other people had other experiences that I wasn’t involved with –
but in my experience was the most controversial issue that I had anything to
do with[. . . ]. Tony Lewis was running around the Justice Department as a
lobbyist for reapportionment, talking to everybody he could get his hands on.
I’m sure he talked multiple times to Robert Kennedy. I’m sure he talked
multiple times to Archibald Cox, and at a much lower level, he talked
multiple times to me and people in the Civil Rights Division. So people
knew even before the issues really had become joined, people knew what
was going on and people were talking to each other about it and Lewis was
telling people what was happening with the different players. The normal
course of events was the government’s position would be first formulated in
the Appellate Section in the Civil Rights Division, would go up to the
Assistant Attorney General, Burke Marshall, then there would be memos at
all those levels, and then it would come up to the Solicitor General’s office,
which since I was handling reapportionment, was me. So all these memos
were around.
MR. STEINBACH: About the state legislature reapportionment question?
MR. TERRIS: What should be the standard? How tough the reapportionment standard
should be, and most importantly, should it be in both houses at the state
legislature? There was a big argument going around that, after all if the
United States Senate is completely malapportioned, why shouldn’t the states
have that same kind of right for their senates? So these are the kinds of
– -23-
issues that were floating around. All the memos that came up to the Solicitor
General were for a very strong, aggressive position of the federal
government. But everybody knew that this was not the Solicitor General’s
position. I wrote a memo, and I thought about this memo very carefully
about how this should be done. It was fifteen single-spaced pages in which
besides arguing the legal merits of it, I basically ended up by saying this was
an issue that in my opinion should be decided at the highest levels of the
government. I did not go outside the chain of command. I knew
Robert Kennedy personally during this time, I guess we’ll talk about that
some other time. So I could have gone to Robert Kennedy very, very easily,
outside channels. I did not do that, and I thought it would have been wrong
to do it. I wasn’t particularly worried I would lose my job, I just thought it
would be wrong to do it. First of all, I knew I wouldn’t have lost my job
because I would have had protection from Kennedy, but I wouldn’t have
done that. But what I did say was that it should be decided at the highest
level. Cox – I think this shows a very good thing about Cox – he sent that
memo on to the highest levels. I know now that it went to the White House.
He did not have to do that. So that precipitated the most interesting meeting I
was ever involved in in the government.
MR. STEINBACH: So there’s a series of memos written by various people inside the government
about what position should be taken on the state reapportionment question.
And, am I right, that most people’s sense is that the Solicitor General himself
is not really on board?
– -24-
MR. TERRIS: He’s not on board.
MR. STEINBACH: So after these memos, there’s a meeting that you remember to discuss these
MR. TERRIS: Correct. Robert Kennedy held a meeting. Everybody that was important in
the Administration was at that meeting except for the President.
Larry O’Brien was there; Kenny O’Donnell was there; Sargent Shriver was
there. Steve Smith was there. Those were the most important political
people in the government at that time. Burke Marshall was there, not
because he was a politician but he was the Assistant Attorney General for the
Civil Rights Division and a very, very smart man. And I was there sitting in
the back [laughter]. I was there I think only because Kennedy wanted me
there. I’m sure he did not expect me to participate and didn’t intend for me
to participate. The meeting I’ve come to believe was a fake. It purported to
be a meeting to decide what the government’s position was. I believe in
retrospect that the meeting was carefully programmed to figure out a method
of getting Archibald Cox to take what Kennedy regarded as the right
MR. STEINBACH: Programmed by whom?
MR. TERRIS: By Robert Kennedy. It went like this: Kennedy called upon Cox to
summarize what the situation was. Cox gave his Harvard Law School
lecture. I don’t remember exactly, but it was certainly at least a half hour.
Nobody else talked during that period. The ultimate point of what Cox was
saying was the Supreme Court will never buy it – will never buy strict one
– -25-
man, one vote. Of course this is a trump card for him. None of the other
people in the room, with the possible exception of Burke Marshall, can really
be the expert on what the Supreme Court was going to do. They can be
experts on politics and all kinds of things, what’s good government and
everything, but he’s the expert on what the Supreme Court is going to do.
During that lecture, deep into it, Kennedy leaves the room, goes and gets
himself some orange juice, comes back, sits down, Cox is still going on.
Kennedy then calls on O’Brien and Kenny O’Donnell: what’s the politics of
this? They say, it’s not going to help the Democratic party. These seats are
going to the suburbs, yes they’re going to move from the rural areas, which
are Republican, to the suburbs, but they’re mostly Republican too, and
they’re not going to the big cities. Kennedy then said, that doesn’t matter,
that this is a fundamental question of democracy, that people have got to
have equal ability to vote for the legislature. Then he comes back to Cox,
and Cox essentially does a short form repeat of his first lecture, and he says
again that the Supreme Court will never buy it. Kennedy, I’ll never forget
this, Kennedy says to Cox, “Archie, I’m sure you’ll find a way.” Well, this
was so shrewd. Archibald Cox had a very big ego. He had good reason to
have a big ego. What Kennedy had done, he had challenged him. He said to
him, I’m sure you can find a way to persuade the Supreme Court. Well, that
was so on the nose. The Solicitor General’s office is down the hall from the
Attorney General’s office, and so Cox and I walked together back to the
Solicitor General’s office. Cox was saying to me, “Kennedy doesn’t
– -26-
understand.” And I kept thinking to myself, “You’re wrong about this one.
He understands.” We get back to the office, and Cox basically says to me
he’s going to write the brief.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. He’s going to write the brief. He’s not sending it to – the normal thing
would be to have it go down to the Appellate Section of the Civil Rights
Division, and they write the brief. Cox writes the brief himself. And of
course he does just exactly what Kennedy challenged him to do. He sits
down to figure out a way that he’s going to almost get to where Kennedy
wants, not quite, almost to where Kennedy wants to persuade the Supreme
Court. So he writes the brief, he tells me not to touch it, it goes to the
Supreme Court. The Supreme Court goes beyond him to hold one man, one
vote, and the whole scenario I’m absolutely convinced is what
Robert Kennedy figured out is how he had to do it. He couldn’t take the risk
that Archibald Cox, who was a very principled man, would not sign the brief.
That was the huge danger. Yes, Kennedy could have ordered a brief to be
filed, and with Bruce Terris and Oscar Davis, then the First Assistant, would
have gone over the brief, but it would have been devastating, potentially
devastating, to do it that way. So that’s the way it went.
MR. STEINBACH: Devastating because the Court and the public —
MR. TERRIS: — would know that Archibald Cox believed that the brief was so wrong that
the Solicitor General wouldn’t even sign it.
– -27-
MR. STEINBACH: So did Kennedy actually push Cox beyond the legal positions he really
wanted himself to articulate? Did Kennedy make in effect Cox go beyond
what he thought was right?
MR. TERRIS: No, he didn’t. I don’t think he ever went beyond that meeting. He was
shrewd enough that by challenging Cox, Cox would get almost to the right
place, or even get to the right place. He didn’t get absolutely to where I think
Kennedy wanted, but he got almost there. But the Supreme Court wasn’t
going to dice it at the end and say, we’re going to stop here. If you’re going
to get this far, you ought to have one man, one vote.
MR. STEINBACH: So it sounds like a remarkable example of political acumen on the part of the
Attorney General.
MR. TERRIS: I think it was. It was a brilliant idea.
MR. STEINBACH: So Cox argues in the Supreme Court.
MR. TERRIS: And of course very persuasively. He was a tremendous oral advocate, after
MR. STEINBACH: This is, I take it, the cases that become Reynolds v. Sims [377 U.S. 533
(1964)], where the Supreme Court accepts and goes beyond the
government’s position and concludes that one person, one vote should apply
to both houses of all state legislatures. Are you in court that day when it was
decided, and do you remembering that dramatic announcement?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I do, and of course I was overjoyed. And there was a little bit of a
discussion between Tony Lewis and Cox [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about that. Anthony Lewis and Archibald Cox in the Supreme Court?
– -28-
MR. TERRIS: They’re leaving. It’s over and Tony Lewis says, what’s it like to be at the
Second Constitutional Convention? Because of course to Tony Lewis this
was enormously important. And Cox says, it’s awful [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: So yet another victory for the Solicitor General he’d rather have not received.
But for you this must have been a sweet vindication after all these years.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. For a young lawyer to have had the opportunity to be able to participate
in this kind of thing was really fantastic. What can you say?
This controversy over what the right standard should be for state
legislatures has one more small chapter. There was a case that came up after
the four cases that were decided by the Supreme Court that included the
Reynolds case, in which Robert Kennedy was no longer the Attorney
General, and Nicholas Katzenbach was the Attorney General. I believe it
involved Colorado but I’m not 100% sure that I remember that correctly. I
got a call one day from the Attorney General, which was not usually within
my routine, and Mr. Katzenbach asked me to come and talk to him. I went
down there, and he said, I’m really worried about the Colorado case – I’m
worried that Archibald Cox is not going to be willing to support
reapportionment in the Colorado case. So we had a discussion about the
Colorado case. I can’t even remember what the particular nuance was, but
there was a nuance that hadn’t been decided, or at least thought yet to be
decided, in the Reynolds case and the other cases decided at that time. So
Mr. Katzenbach wanted me to talk to him about how he could talk to Cox
about persuading him to take the right position in that case. I talked to him.
– -29-
I edited that brief too, and it came out the way that Katzenbach wanted,
which was the same as what Kennedy had wanted, so apparently Katzenbach
was successful in persuading Cox.
MR. STEINBACH: Bruce, some of what we’ve talked about today you’ve summarized at greater
detail in a piece you wrote in Supreme Court History in 2007,*
which we’ll
attach to the transcript of this interview. I wonder if you would just for a
second reflect on the importance of the reapportionment cases. What was the
end result – was this good for the country? How do you feel about your role
in having been part of these historic decisions?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was enormously important for the country in both a positive way
and in preventing a very negative situation. I think the positive way was that
it moved political power from rural areas to the suburbs and to some extent
the big cities, and I think it was crucial to this country. I think you got
different kinds of people in legislatures and you got much more sophisticated
people, people who are much more attuned to a country that is the most
important country in the world facing enormous problems both internally and
externally. I think it was absolutely crucial that that change occurred. But if
it hadn’t, if you think about what if it hadn’t occurred – it had to occur. The
country couldn’t continue along a line in which the legislatures became
worse and worse apportioned and were essentially run by rural areas which
are very unrepresentative of the country. You almost have to say to yourself

Terris, Bruce J. “Attorney General Kennedy Versus Solicitor General Cox: The Formulation
of the Federal Government’s Position in the Reapportionment Cases.” Supreme Court History
32 (2007): 335-345.
– -30-
somehow if this hadn’t occurred it would still have occurred. It had to occur.
The country couldn’t exist that way.
MR. STEINBACH: And looking back personally after a career with many other
accomplishments, your sense of your own pride and satisfaction in having
been involved in the reapportionment decisions?
MR. TERRIS: I feel very happy about it and proud of it. I’ve been in some other important
kinds of issues, but this is clearly the most important, and it was again, for a
young lawyer, it was mind-boggling that you had that kind of chance. I work
with young lawyers here and I think the level they’re allowed to work on,
then I think to myself, what I was working on when I was in my late 20s and
early 30s and it’s overwhelming really.
MR. STEINBACH: It not only turned out well, it turned out to be historic.
Well, thank you. We will move on in other sessions with other parts of your
life. Thank you, Bruce.
– -31-
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Thursday,
May 29, 2014. This is the second interview.
MR. STEINBACH: Good afternoon, Bruce.
MR. TERRIS: Good afternoon.
MR. STEINBACH: We are going to focus today on background – what ultimately brought you to
Washington, D.C. to work in the Justice Department, and there’s a lot before
that. So why don’t we start with the first, which is the date you were born
and the place you were born.
MR. TERRIS: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and it was August 3, 1933, I’m told
MR. STEINBACH: Why don’t you tell us generally about your parents: where they grew up,
where their ancestor’s families originally came from, to the extent you know.
MR. TERRIS: My father’s family came from what I think was called White Russia and now
is Belarus. I know essentially nothing about that background. My father
never talked about it, and I guess I wasn’t smart enough to ask. They came I
believe in the 1890s to New York, and they moved to Michigan. My father
was born soon thereafter in 1902. They lived in a neighborhood, I am told,
where they spoke Yiddish. My father, I was told, did not speak English until
he was about 5. Other people in my family said that isn’t right, that he did
– -32-
speak English before then. Obviously I don’t know. He was a very smart
man. He got into the University of Michigan but his family was not wealthy
at all. His father was in the scrap business, getting things from the railroads,
the Grand Trunk Railroad, getting debris, things that they didn’t care about
and had left there, and he would sell them and that’s how he made his living.
He died, I don’t know how old he was exactly – my father could have been in
his teens, maybe a little older than that, but something like that.
MR. STEINBACH: So this would have been your paternal grandfather who died?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I never met my paternal grandfather, and I don’t believe I ever met my
paternal grandmother either. So my father couldn’t stay at the University of
Michigan. I don’t think he was there very long at all because it was too
costly. He couldn’t live at home if he went to Michigan, so he went instead
to what was called then Wayne University in Detroit. I believe at that time
he studied to become a doctor. We didn’t have the system we now have of
going four years to undergraduate school and then having four more years of
going to medical school. I believe it was just one piece. I don’t know how
long that was. In the very early 20s, he got his medical degree and he went
to practice medicine in Detroit. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
He had five siblings. He was the oldest, and he was the only one that I
believe went to college. It’s possible that one of his sisters did, but she
unfortunately got tuberculosis when she was very young and had to go live in
Colorado and she died fairly young. I did meet her. I went out to Colorado
with my father and I think I met her once, maybe more than that. The rest of
– -33-
the children did not go to college. It was a family that was certainly
strapped. I don’t know that I would call them poor. Poverty – and this may
not be the place [to say this], but my experience with poverty, with which I
do have considerable experience by working on the street – in many ways
has a lot to do with money but also has a lot to do with [the way] you see the
world, and I have a feeling they weren’t poor in the sense that they may not
have had a lot of luxury but that they were very forward-looking and
optimistic about where they were going.
My mother’s family I think came to the New World roughly at the same
time. They came from Poland. They went to Toronto and that’s where she
grew up. Her parents moved to the United States and to Detroit – so maybe
that’s when she moved to Detroit too. She was a nurse and she worked at the
hospital where my father practiced[. . .]. She also had several siblings. I’m
not exactly sure how many because they weren’t all in Detroit.
I was born as I indicated before in 1933, and it was in Detroit, and we
lived on the east side of Detroit.
MR. STEINBACH: In the city itself?
MR. TERRIS: In the city itself. That’s where my father’s office was, on the east side of
Detroit, and that’s where huge – then, not now – automobile factories were.
His practice was heavily automobile workers. And at that time nobody had
insurance, so he was paid or he was not paid as the case might be. Certainly
we were not wealthy, certainly not in the time before I was born and even
after that. They were struggling. I don’t want to make this into that they
– -34-
really were in difficult times. He was a doctor, he was making money, and
he was doing reasonably well.
In the late 1930s, probably around 1937, just a few years after I was
born, the family moved to Grosse Pointe City. There are a whole string of
Grosse Pointes, and people think of Grosse Pointe as being a very wealthy
place, and there were some very wealthy people[. . .]. Edsel Ford was
building a place there when he died and it never got completed and that was
one of the fun things for young people to do, to explore that place. But in
general there were not very many wealthy people. There were certainly
upper middle class people, well-off people, and we were, I would say, up
until World War II, not among them. We were perfectly middle class. I’ve
gone back to Grosse Pointe after that and I looked at the neighborhood and it
was a very nice neighborhood but the houses were very small. Today there
are probably few doctors in the United States that live in houses as small as
our house was.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’ve gone back to Grosse Pointe City and looked at your childhood
MR. TERRIS: Yes, and I sort of remembered it not being too large, but when I saw it, I
really knew it wasn’t very large. My brother was born I think in 1936, my
sister in 1938. We had three bedrooms. My sister had the smallest. She
was, of course, by herself. The two brothers were together in one bedroom.
We had bunk beds, and if we had not had bunk beds, I think the beds would
essentially have occupied every square inch of the bedroom. And we had
– -35-
one bathroom in the hall that [the whole family] used, and we had a kitchen
and quite a modest sized dining room and living room, and a nice sized
backyard. Not the way the suburbs are now, but a nice sized backyard.
About the size where you could play croquet.
MR. STEINBACH: What type of practice was your father in?
MR. TERRIS: My father did everything. I always have said to people he did everything but
brain surgery. He was a family practitioner, is what people would say today.
I don’t think they used that term then. He did obstetrics. He’d get up in the
middle of night and go to the hospital. He would do surgery. His usual
workday and week – I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll come back to this
because I don’t know what his work day and week was in the 1930s, I was
too young. But when we came back from the war, and I’ll explain about that
in a little bit, when we came back from the war in the 1940s, I know quite
well what his work week was.
MR. STEINBACH: He practiced throughout the whole time you were growing up?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Did your mother continue working as a nurse when she had children?
MR. TERRIS: No. She was completely at home. She was a tremendously devoted mother
and a fastidious home keeper. We also had help in the house. You would
think we wouldn’t need it for such a small house, but my mother was so
unbelievably fastidious. I used to joke, when I was a little older, of course,
that my mother had her hands out to catch the dust before it hit the floor. I
can remember constantly being chastised and even hit in the head for having
– -36-
the drawers in the room pulled out and not put back into place. My mother
was a very careful housekeeper.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you recall whether your mother had formal schooling to become a nurse,
or did she have college education?
MR. TERRIS: No, she did not. And my father I think didn’t really have a college education.
I think he probably had some courses like that. They were not broadly
educated, but they were both smart and they both gradually absorbed an
education. Long before they died, they were people with quite an extensive,
what I would call an education, but it didn’t come from a college.
MR. STEINBACH: Your father’s a doctor, your mother’s a nurse. No pressure on you to become
something other than a lawyer?
MR. TERRIS: No. There was no pressure, but I wanted to become a doctor. I really had
this thought – now this was of course a little later when I was in junior high
school or maybe the beginning of senior high school – that I wanted to
become a doctor because I wanted to practice with him. I was enormously
close to my parents and I just thought that that would be the most wonderful
thing in the world. Unfortunately something happened. I believe it was in 9th
grade they had something called “career book” in which the students would
go out and they would research the subject that they wanted, the profession,
the job, or whatever they wanted to become. I was an enormously dedicated
student even at that age, so I wrote the whole history of medicine, but one of
the things I did besides going back to Galen and the Greeks and all those
kind of people is I went to see my father in his practice. So [I went to] see
– -37-
him operate. Well I saw him operate, and one of the two operations he did
that morning was a goiter operation. A goiter operation is enormously
bloody. When that operation was over, I was finished [laughter]. I couldn’t
be a doctor anymore.
MR. STEINBACH: Did he know that at the time? Did he regret having brought you in that day?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think so. He didn’t really care that I become a doctor. He really
cared that I become somebody, but I never got the impression that I broke his
heart that I wasn’t going to practice medicine.
MR. STEINBACH: So you probably have no recollections of growing up in the first four years in
East Detroit?
MR. TERRIS: No I really don’t. The one thing I do remember is we had rhubarb in our
backyard and I used to go out and eat it [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: What was your neighborhood like when you moved to Grosse Pointe City,
when you were growing up?
MR. TERRIS: There were all these small houses. It was just being developed, the portion of
Grosse Pointe that we were in. Many, many vacant lots. Quite near our
house, only a block or two from our house, was something called Snake
Woods. The children in the neighborhood, of which there were many, used
to troop over and thought it was quite exciting to go into Snake Woods.
There was enough room so you could play baseball on vacant lots. In the
beginning, when we were really small and couldn’t hit the ball very far, we
could play in our front yard, which wasn’t a very big front yard. Once we hit
a ball through the neighbor’s window. It was a very laidback neighborhood.
– -38-
It was a totally, totally segregated neighborhood, but it wasn’t just segregated
between whites and blacks. There were restrictive covenants in Grosse
Pointe that barred Blacks, Italians, and Jews. I don’t know what happened
about the Jews in our case, but I assume the reason is that my name is not
Jewish, and at least my father did not look at all Jewish. My mother,
somebody might, if they were thinking about it, decide that she was Jewish,
but they probably wouldn’t have been thinking about it because they
probably would have thought that no Jew would even think about coming to
Grosse Pointe. Now the fact is there were not many Jews in the whole east
side of Detroit, so it wouldn’t have been in a real estate agent’s mind. To the
best of my knowledge, there were three Jewish families in Grosse Pointe out
of about 75,000 people in the 1950s. Since there were not that many people
in Grosse Pointe in the 1930s, the number of Jews would have been
considerably less.
MR. STEINBACH: So this is not a Jewish enclave in the Detroit area; just the opposite it sounds
MR. TERRIS: Jews were on the west side.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you know growing up that you, I guess, weren’t supposed to live there?
Did you know that as a child, and did that matter to your experiences?
MR. TERRIS: I doubt that I knew, but the question really relates to a lot of other things. I
certainly knew that the community wasn’t Jewish and that, for example, in
high school there was a Hi-Y club that had a Christian orientation to it. The
people in the neighborhood of course were going to church, observing
– -39-
Christmas and all that kind of thing. I certainly knew I was different, but I
don’t think it really bothered me a great deal. My family was in many ways
very Jewish. I always used to joke, it wasn’t quite accurate, that my father
never said a sentence that he didn’t have a few Yiddish words in it. He did
that a lot. His friends and my mother’s friends were all Jewish. They were
from the west side of Detroit and they were very Jewish. We were almost
totally non-religious, almost totally. The only thing we did religiously was I
think most years we went to a Passover Seder, where interestingly enough
my father always presided. I don’t know whether he knew all the words or
not or what they meant, but he used to say the service at a speed that was
beyond the way a human voice can normally move. I can’t speak English at
the speed he could speak this Hebrew. I suspect he didn’t know what he was
saying, but I could be totally wrong. We also lit the Hanukkah candles, and
that was about it, until the time that I should have been bar mitzvahed, but I
wasn’t, and I was confirmed. My mother took me all the way across town
twice a week to get a very poor religious education from a Reform
synagogue. So they did care about it, but our home certainly [did not have] a
very religious atmosphere.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you grow up – by being Jewish in this community, as a very small
minority member I guess – did that ever affect you in your relationships with
your friends, or was that something that you ever had any experiences with
that stick in your mind at all?
– -40-
MR. TERRIS: I never felt in the slightest bit discriminated against, treated in a different
way. Now I don’t know how many people knew I was Jewish. Certainly
some people did, but I think in the entire time that I lived in Grosse Pointe, I
can remember one anti-Semitic comment being made to me. If they didn’t
know I was Jewish, they wouldn’t have directed it particularly to me, but I
didn’t hear anti-Semitic comments. So no, I really was not affected in any
significant way.
MR. STEINBACH: What was your elementary school like. Neighborhood school?
MR. TERRIS: Neighborhood school, about five or six blocks from my house.
MR. STEINBACH: Public school?
MR. TERRIS: Let me back up. I couldn’t speak until I was three. I’m almost sure that the
reason is I have a very poor ability to distinguish sound. I am horrible at
learning language. I got A’s in Spanish in high school and at Harvard. If
they ever taught those courses so that you had to speak or understand
Spanish, I would have gotten an F. But in those days they did it on paper. I
was in great shape. Occasionally they’d speak a little bit of Spanish in class,
and I understood none of it. And I’ve never been able to learn Hebrew,
although I’ve spent an enormous effort to do it, and never could learn to
speak it. I could read it a little bit but I couldn’t speak it and couldn’t
understand it.
MR. STEINBACH: But you couldn’t even speak at all until you were three?
MR. TERRIS: I couldn’t speak. But in the meantime, my mother, who as I told you was
about the most devoted mother around, first carted me off to a neighborhood
– -41-
nursery school, and then she found, I think at about age 2 – I don’t know
what to call it, nursery school wouldn’t be the right word – something called
the Merrill Palmer Institute, which was completely across the city and it was
I believe for gifted students. Don’t ask me how anyone would even know I
was a gifted student, particularly since I couldn’t say anything. My guess is
my mother and father were worried. So she used to spend, it must have been
three hours a day, taking me and then coming back and getting me at the end
of the day. And for the next couple of years, that’s where I spent my time. I
can remember very fondly what a challenging atmosphere it was. I don’t
remember the details of course, but I do have this remembrance of doing
puzzles and things like that.
So when I got to grammar school, Richard Grammar School is what it
was, I was quite far ahead of the other students, and much of the time I didn’t
spend in class. I spent time doing workbooks. Then they tried to deal with
it, my being ahead, I think it must have been around my second year. In
Grosse Pointe at the time, one group of students came in in September, and
another group of students came in February, so there were children in
September who were in the middle of the first year, middle of the 10th grade,
etc. They jumped me a half grade so in September, each year, I was in the
middle of the year, not the start of it. I guess I went to Richard up until the
time I was 9.
MR. STEINBACH: So this is before high school. You stayed at Richard all the way?
– -42-
MR. TERRIS: No. Up until junior high school and then across the street from Richard was
Brownell Junior High School, but I didn’t start at Brownell because during
the war, almost the entire time, I was going to school at numerous schools all
over the United States.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay, let’s save that. Let’s focus on the years before the war starts, I
suppose, while you’re in grammar school equivalent.
MR. TERRIS: Up until age 9.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay. I’m going to start with your home life during that time period. What
was your family like? What were the evenings like? What did your parents
emphasize in values? However you want to tackle that.
MR. TERRIS: I remember all that very clearly for the period after the war.
MR. STEINBACH: Then generally, however you’d like to respond to that.
MR. TERRIS: Let me try to put the two together.
MR. TERRIS: Before the war, my father’s practice struggled. A lot of people didn’t pay
MR. STEINBACH: This is the Depression decade?
MR. TERRIS: It’s during the Depression. The reason I know people didn’t pay him is
because after my father went in the Army, which we’ll talk about in a minute,
my mother got the assignment – my father was in Florida actually at the time
in training – and my mother got the job of going from patient to patient to try
to collect the bills that they owed my father, and I got the job of going with
her because I guess maybe it was seen as too dangerous for my mother to go
– -43-
all by herself. So I know that there were lots of debts owed my father. After
the war, however, when my father came back from the Army, he built an
enormous practice, an enormous practice. His day really informed the rest of
our days, other than obviously I went to school and the other children went to
school. He’d be out of the house at about 7:00. In those days, he at least,
and I think doctors generally, made home calls. He would make home calls
for a while. At least two or three days a week he would go to the hospital,
both visit patients, and do one or two surgeries a day. Later in the day,
probably around noon or something, he’d start on his office hours. He would
see an enormous number of people, probably 40 or 50.
MR. STEINBACH: Was it still mostly auto workers at that point?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. Same practice. He’d come home at 5:00 sharp. Dinner. Everybody’s
to be there at dinner. We’d have dinner for about an hour, he would then go
back to the office until about 8:00 or 9:00, and he’d make more home calls.
So I probably wouldn’t see him again that day, maybe if I stayed up
particularly late doing studying or something I might, but otherwise I
wouldn’t. Then on Saturdays he’d work half a day – sometimes we did
things like go to the University of Michigan football games or do something
else together. Often I went with him on his house calls on Saturday and
Sunday. He made house calls on Sunday. Not all day by any means, but
probably a couple hours. And that was what he did during the week. His
interests were he read medical magazines and he played the stock market.
That was his great challenge, to play the stock market. Because now he was
– -44-
making money and he had something to invest.
I left out something about my mother that I think would tell you
something about how careful she was at bringing us up. Every day in the
morning, all the way through high school to the day I went off to Harvard,
we’d line up, we’d have breakfast. We’d have a full, enormously healthy
breakfast. Every meal was enormously healthy. We would then line up and
the three children would be given a dose of cod liver oil. Every single
morning until I went to college.
MR. STEINBACH: And you did the same with your kids?
MR. TERRIS: No [laughter]. If I tried that with my kids, they’d run away from home.
MR. STEINBACH: So when you had these family dinners promptly at 5:00 – discussions? I
guess you did it up until age 9, but then after the war you’d be 13 to 17 until
you go off to college.
MR. TERRIS: I think we had a lot of discussions. Starting at least when I was 11, I would
say, I started reading the newspapers quite thoroughly. I also started reading
– this may have been a little older than that but not much older – books about
anti-Semitism in the United States. I’ve forgotten his initials, but [Gerald
L.K.] Smith. There was a very famous anti-Semite. Father [Charles]
Coughlin, worked out of Royal Oak, Michigan, so I read books about all that
and what have you. I know that there were discussions at the table. My
parents were certainly intelligent people, and so, yes, I think we had a fair
amount of that. I remember, for example, when I was in, I believe it was in
9th grade, that I did a big project on the Yalta Conference, and again I
– -45-
probably overdid it. I used to go downtown regularly and not only take the
clippings from the Detroit News and Free Press but clippings from all over
the country that were on the Yalta Conference.
MR. STEINBACH: Then that would have been in high school, right?
MR. TERRIS: It would have been around 9th grade. It could have been 10th, because let me
think, Yalta was 1945 so I was only 12 years old, so it was probably 8th grade
MR. STEINBACH: Before we start on the war, the 1930s was obviously the decade of the
Depression, although by the end of the 1930s you’re only 6 or 7. You
probably don’t have a personal sense of that.
MR. TERRIS: My family did not seem to be operating on the basis of the Depression. My
father may have worried about it. Sometimes he would be paid in eggs or
things like that, so I’m sure he was worried, but at home there was no reason
for me to be, that I felt anything like that. I did not feel as a little kid that
anything was being denied me.
MR. STEINBACH: So Pearl Harbor happens when you’re probably 8 years old. Do you have
any recollection of worrying that a war might come prior to that?
MR. TERRIS: No, not prior to it, but I can remember the exact moment that I heard about it.
I was at my maternal grandparents, who lived in Detroit at that time, and I
can remember this old radio – I guess it probably wasn’t old then but it was
one of these things that kind of looked like a looped top that sits on the floor
– and hearing Franklin Roosevelt’s speech, the great speech of Franklin
Roosevelt about [Pearl Harbor] being attacked. Of course I couldn’t
– -46-
comprehend quite what that effect was going to be on me and my family, but
obviously I could feel the enormous tension in our room together and of
course in Franklin Roosevelt’s speech.
MR. STEINBACH: How did your dad get involved in the Army or whatever he actually did
during the war? Was that an aftermath of Pearl Harbor?
MR. STEINBACH: What happened?
MR. TERRIS: He never would have been drafted. He was 40 years old, and I believe that
the draft age for doctors was 40. In other words, below 40 they would be
drafted. He joined the Army I believe in December 1942 and he was 40 at
that time. From a selfish point of view, going into the Army was crazy.
Now he really had the opportunity for the first time in his life to make a
substantial amount of money. Lots of doctors were leaving. He could have
had a tremendous practice. People were flocking to Detroit, factory workers
were getting paid far more money than they used to, all that kind of thing.
He felt an enormous debt to the United States, an enormous debt. I don’t
know how much he knew about his family’s situation in Russia, but he felt
this enormous debt, and it was increased by the kind of feeling that he and a
lot of other Jews had about Franklin Roosevelt and that this country was
fundamentally not anti-Semitic and that this was just a marvelous thing for
Jews like him to have a fair chance. So he joined the Army, and he was
assigned and had his early training in Florida.
MR. STEINBACH: And you stayed in Michigan while he went to Florida?
– -47-
MR. TERRIS: For about a month we stayed in Michigan, then the rest of the family got on a
train and we went down to Florida. Now I didn’t go to school – I think he
was in Florida for only about a month or two more. I didn’t go to school in
Florida, nor did my brother. My family got the two of us – my brother was
three years younger than I am – got us Army uniforms and the units that were
in Florida used to march around Miami Beach. They were in Miami Beach
in the fanciest hotels probably in the United States. I don’t know if they were
fancy when the Army took them over, but they were inherently a very fancy
place, and these units would march around the streets in cadence, all the
commands, left, right, all that kind of stuff, and we would go out in the street
with our Army uniforms and salute them. We would walk from block to
block, there were no cars on the street, there were only these units marching
around, and these two punk kids were out there saluting them. That’s my
recollection of that. From that point on, we went place to place with my
father until the middle of 1945 when the war ended.
We went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which I can still remember is the
coldest place I can remember in my life. It was probably February of 1943,
and we went to other places; I don’t know the sequence, it’s probably not
important anyway. We went to Kalamazoo, Michigan; we went to LaCrosse,
Wisconsin; we went to Takoma, Washington; we went to Elsinore,
California; we went to San Francisco, California. I think that we went to all
of them, and I went to about ten schools. One of them I went to for one day,
one for three days, and others for a year.
– -48-
MR. STEINBACH: This was because the Army was constantly reassigning your father to be the
medical doctor for trainees or recruits all over the country?
MR. TERRIS: All kinds of people. And he also made matters a little worse because when
my father saw things that he thought were not appropriate, he protested.
When he protested, he got transferred. I can remember in LaCrosse,
Wisconsin, they had him and some other people training by crawling over the
ground while there was live machine gun fire over them. A soldier fairly
close to him got killed, and another soldier was wounded. My father had
some things to say about that, and before long we were not in LaCrosse,
Wisconsin, anymore.
MR. STEINBACH: So from your perspective, was this fun and exciting to move from place to
place, or very difficult because you were constantly changing schools and
losing friends, or what was it like?
MR. TERRIS: I think exciting probably would be closer to it. First of all, I was with my
family. My mother was spending full time taking care of the children. My
father lived with us so it wasn’t like the family was broken up. I did well in
school, so it really wasn’t that hard. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, I think I was
there only about ten days and I won the spelling bee in the school. I got a
promotion for another half year beyond where I was because one of the
schools, I’m not sure which one, didn’t have half grades like we had in
Grosse Pointe, so they either had to put me back or put me forward, so I got
put forward another half grade. That’s why I ended up graduating from both
high school and college very young. It was fun, and it was fun to go to
– -49-
different places. I mean San Francisco, when we ended up there, was terrific.
For a few months – we lived downtown before our apartment got completed,
it was under construction – I sold newspapers on the cable cars. I’d get on
the cable car, sold some newspapers, and the cable car would go down a half
mile, and then I’d get off and get on another cable car coming back. For a
young kid, this was pretty exciting, so I loved it. It probably did me a lot of
good and I learned an enormous amount about the United States. We always
drove, except for that first trip to Florida, and we went to all kinds of places
that I’d never see at that age.
MR. STEINBACH: That’s fascinating. I think you told me it was around this time you started to
read the newspaper and follow current events.
MR. TERRIS: I followed the war particularly. I followed the war across the Pacific, from
island to island, I followed the war in Russia. I read the newspaper quite
MR. STEINBACH: Recollections about what it was like to grow up during the war? Do you
remember anything changing besides the fact that you’re moving from place
to place? Did it affect your daily life, your family?
MR. TERRIS: My mother was such a tremendous home keeper. She really prevented
probably any of the stresses that you would say to yourself it must’ve been
stressful to do this or this, but it really wasn’t. It really wasn’t. And some of
it was actually almost luxurious. I forgot that another place we were at was
Fresno, California, at Hammer Field. My father was an officer, a medical
– -50-
officer, and we spent the whole summer at the Officer’s Club swimming
pool. For kids, you can’t beat that [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Did you ever worry that we might not win the war?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think so. But, of course, at that age I wasn’t too acute. I mean
certainly at the time of Pearl Harbor, there was reason to be worried. I might
have had a little bit of worry because I was reading the newspaper soon after
that and certainly there were things in the newspaper that weren’t going so
well. I can remember reading about the German campaign being quite
successful in the Soviet Union. So I think I had some worry, but not enough
so you could say this was really having a significant impact on me.
MR. STEINBACH: Is this before you wrote your report in 9th grade on medicine?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, that was back in Grosse Pointe. So was the Yalta conference report.
MR. STEINBACH: Did any of the war experience or your involvement in life in the Army as a
child in any way sort of make you want to pursue some sort of public service
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think at that time I really had gotten to that point. I think the closest I
was getting to that point was when I was in high school, once I began to
develop actual political attitudes.
MR. STEINBACH: Recollections of Franklin Roosevelt as President?
MR. TERRIS: My family was enormously supportive of him for the reasons I said before. I
can remember, we did come back to Grosse Pointe a few times for relatively
short periods, and I can remember in 1944 that there was a straw poll in
Richard Grammar School . . . between Dewey and Roosevelt. The vote for
– -51-
Dewey was 7 to 1. That vote tells you a lot about Grosse Pointe. I was
among the one. My family was Democratic, and I became even more to the
left when I was in high school, but I didn’t have discussions with people in
Grosse Pointe about my political views [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: You must remember the excitement when the war ended.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. We were coming home. It had the same excitement as everybody else
in the country, plus it meant we were going home. My father, of course, was
very excited, he was going to resume his practice. One interesting thing
about what happened during the war is we spent, as I indicated to you, we
spent much of the war in different places in California, and my father decided
that he probably wanted to come back to California. This was a very difficult
thing to do because half of the doctors in the Army who had been in
California had the same idea, and so they were giving oral exams [to get a
California license] and passing almost nobody. The doctors in California
were not looking forward to thousands of additional doctors pouring into the
state. My father was one of the very, very few who passed, and the question
he thinks determined it was, “What was Rocky Mountain spotted fever?”
Don’t ask me how he knew that. He had never practiced in the Rocky
Mountains, but he knew a lot of medicine, and he got it right.
MR. STEINBACH: So you had just turned 12 a few days before the war against Japan ended in
1945. Your family goes back to Grosse Pointe. Your father resumes his
medical practice.
MR. TERRIS: And we went back to the same house. We had never given up the house.
– -52-
MR. STEINBACH: Who took care of his practice while he was away?
MR. TERRIS: Nobody. It was gone.
MR. STEINBACH: So he managed to get many of the same families to come back?
MR. TERRIS: He came back in the first instance to be a very junior partner with a doctor
who had a practice. Fairly soon, he went out and started a practice by
himself. He had a tremendous bedside manner. The proof of this wasn’t
really Detroit, because there he had people who knew him, but when he went
to California years later, in 1954, he built another practice almost instantly.
All he had to do was put a sign up and the first person came in, that person
would tell everybody in the world. So he had an enormous practice.
MR. STEINBACH: So you return, as I said, when you’re about 12. Can I ask you before you we
go further, do you have any recollections of the atomic bombing at the end of
the war?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I can remember that and how completely puzzling that was. Probably
to almost anybody it must have seemed like an overwhelming thing – what is
this kind of thing? For a child of my age, that’s what I can remember, what
does that mean that there’s a bomb that wipes out a whole city? What is this?
And then, of course, some thoughts about the moral – not in any tremendous
depth, I don’t want to pretend about that – this incredible number of people
being killed.
MR. STEINBACH: Obviously we all look backwards knowing about the Cold War. When the
war ends, do you think all is going to be well, or are you and your family
already sort of worried about future relationships with the Soviet Union?
– -53-
MR. TERRIS: I’m a Leftist at this point. I’m not a Communist, but I’m a Leftist. I took –
you probably know because you’re a historian – there was a newspaper
called PM. I took that – and when I say I took that, I literally mean I, not my
family because they didn’t particularly read it – and at least for part of the
time when I was in high school I took it. There was a teacher in high school
who had the same sort of ideas who became to some degree kind of my
mentor, so at least part of high school I was very into that kind of thing, so
there certainly was a period there where I was very sympathetic to the
Soviet Union and wasn’t worried. I don’t know when that changed.
MR. STEINBACH: How does someone who grows up in a town that is 7 to 1 in favor of Dewey
end up, in high school, no less, becoming a “Leftist”?
MR. TERRIS: The mentor probably had something to do with it, but I also think that I have
an innate skepticism, to a certain degree, [a sense] of rebellion. I think some
of those characteristics are very Jewish characteristics, so my being at least
ostensibly Jewish, and in a real way culturally Jewish, because my family
was really culturally Jewish.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s focus on your high school years, which I think would be about 1946 to
1950, approximately? Since you’re in the college class of 1954.
MR. TERRIS: That’s right.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell me the name of your high school, where it was, what you remember.
MR. TERRIS: It was Grosse Pointe High School. Brownell was across the street from
Richard, and Grosse Pointe High School was next to Brownell, so it was all
one big complex. It was a very good high school, public. The upper middle
– -54-
class kids in Grosse Pointe went to private schools. At that time I think my
father probably had the money to pay for me to go, but it would have never
crossed his mind. And my brother never went to private school. My sister
did, but that’s because she got herself into a little bit of trouble so my parents
thought that getting her out of town, nothing really terribly serious, but from
my parent’s point of view, it was trouble. It was a very good school, and it
was really pretty uneventful. I was the sports editor for the school newspaper
for a semester. I played tennis. I got on a very good tennis team that when I
was there it had won something like 250 out of 251 dual matches, won every
dual match the year I was there. I came close but didn’t beat the second
ranking tennis player in Michigan. I was nowhere near as good as that
suggests, but I had a good day, almost a really good day. I had been
appointed by somebody, I don’t know who did that, to be the chief justice of
the supreme court of the school. It was supposed to deal with honor issues.
My recollection is there were very, very few [issues] that I dealt with. I got
very good grades. I was second in my class, and I was tied for first until the
last semester. Never could deal really with literature courses [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: What did you excel at?
MR. TERRIS: I think I was probably just pretty good at everything. There was certainly, I
can remember in mathematics there was a guy who was better than I was and
really was a wiz at it, but it wasn’t that difficult for me to get A’s, and so I
got all A’s except for one. It was a pretty uneventful high school career.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you do in the summers?
– -55-
MR. TERRIS: When I was younger, I went to camp I think for a few weeks for at least
several of the summers. When my father was in the Army, nothing happened
except for that one glorious summer at the Officer’s Club swimming pool.
During high school, I believe one of the summers, I think this was when I
was in high school, I got the assignment of re-painting the white picket fence
in our back yard, and I painted it at the speed that Rembrandt would have
done it. I was so careful with the painting I was doing that it took almost the
whole summer. My parents were not overjoyed by that.
In 1946, I spent much of the summer after school let out by getting on
the, I believe it was the trolley. Detroit was only one block from our house
and so I walked up there, got on a trolley, went down to Briggs Stadium, and
saw virtually every home game because my hero, Hank Greenberg, was there
that year. Unfortunately, they traded him after that year, and I never quite
fully forgave them. I think other summers I really don’t know exactly what I
did. I went to the lake which was about a mile from the house and swam
some days. Certainly near the end of my high school time, I spent a lot of
time playing tennis. One summer I won the junior championship for
Grosse Pointe. Probably a lot of people would say I goofed around
MR. STEINBACH: You graduated from high school, do you remember what year?
MR. TERRIS: 1950.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you know at that point or think what you might want to be when you had
a career?
– -56-
MR. TERRIS: I thought about going to law school. People then, children then, knew so
much less than they know today and have done so much less thinking about it
than today. It’s just amazing. I didn’t know anything about colleges. I
really didn’t know anything about what kind of work [I wanted] to do. The
reason I say I may have thought about law is I wasn’t going to be a doctor –
so it was almost like, and I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous, what else is
there to do? It’s a profession. I didn’t really think about teaching. Maybe I
should have, but I didn’t. And I almost didn’t have any idea in my head what
I was going to do. I knew I wasn’t going to be a carpenter. I was a complete
klutz with my hands. So vaguely law was something I was thinking about.
MR. STEINBACH: How did you end up at Harvard College?
MR. TERRIS: That supports the point I just made almost in spades. I was going to the
University of Michigan; that’s the only college I applied to. I had gotten in.
Virtually every student in my high school who had grades above a certain
level went to the University of Michigan. If you got grades a little below
that, you went to Michigan State. If you got grades a little below that, you
went to Kalamazoo or Albion or Wayne. Nobody went east to school. There
might have been a couple of people going to school in Ohio. That was really
being adventuresome, going some distance. I think I calculated there were
three people, other than myself, that went to school in the east. From the
private schools, they were all going east, but in the public high school, the
only people that went east were people whose families were the occasional
family in high school that were upper middle class. Other than that, nobody
– -57-
was going east. One guy went to Harvard. They recruited him to play
football. So it never even dawned on me.
There was a patient of my father’s – it’s kind of interesting I still
remember his name because I probably saw him only two or three times in
my life – his name was George Cobb. He was a rare patient for my father –
he was an engineer. My father always did a lot of bragging about his
children in between talking to his patients about their medical problems.
And I’m sure he bragged to George Cobb that I was doing well in school, and
George Cobb said, “Well, if your son’s doing so well in school, the best
school – this guy had gone to Cornell – the best school in the country is
Harvard, so why doesn’t your son go to Harvard?” It never dawned on my
father either that his son go to Harvard. So my father came home and said,
“George Cobb said that Harvard is the best school in the country. You have
good grades, why don’t you go to Harvard?” Well I took the College Boards
and I got, I think, in the top 1%, and I applied to Harvard. It was also the
only other school I applied to. And I got in. So I went to Harvard [laughter].
I had never been there, and knew nothing about it other than George Cobb.
MR. STEINBACH: You accepted without having gone there, and the first time you visited is
when you showed up as a freshman?
MR. TERRIS: My father and mother drove me there, dumped me off, and that was that.
MR. STEINBACH: Describe, I guess, your college experience. Let’s start that generally, and
we’ll go from there.
– -58-
MR. TERRIS: First of all, half of the Harvard class at that time – I’m not really sure if I
have it right – I believe half the class had gone to eastern prep schools, and
there were of course many, many other students who had also gone to private
schools beyond that. The number of public school students was very low. I
think there were 100 people in my class of roughly 1,100 from Exeter and
100 from Andover. That’s where Harvard got its students. And of course
from the moment I got there I thought to myself to some degree, I’m really
kind of over my head. These people seem to know so much more than I
know. I had been to a very good high school, but in comparison, it seemed
like they knew everything and I hardly knew anything. I came there with the
attitude, I was not going to do that well. I don’t mean to say I was going to
flunk, but if I were in the middle of the class, that would be perfectly good.
After all, it’s been said to be the best school in the country, so if I got in the
middle, that would be good. So I started and I can remember one class –
about the greatest books. John Finley, a great classicist, taught in Sanders
Theatre, this enormous place with probably 500 students sitting there, and he
lectured on The Iliad, The Odyssey, the Aeneid, Dante, Milton. That was it.
The next semester, now I’ve gone blank on the teacher [Thornton Wilder],
which is really bad, but you’ll know immediately because he was a visiting
professor and he was the author of Our Town. We read Don Quixote, War
and Peace, Great Expectations, The Red and the Black, and Our Town. That
was just an overwhelming course. I had read War and Peace before because
I had done a paper in my senior year in high school on War and Peace, Anna
– -59-
Karenina, and Resurrection, the third novel of Tolstoy, which had gotten a B
MR. STEINBACH: In high school?
MR. TERRIS: In high school. And I got a B in this course too, in literature again [laughter].
And in my first year at Harvard I took a political science course and I took
Spanish and a course in writing in which they were attempting to improve
my writing. I had almost no extracurricular activities at Harvard. I just
worked harder than anybody at Harvard. Nobody has ever out-worked me in
school, I can tell you that. There have people that have worked as hard, but
nobody has out-worked me. And that’s why I got good grades, not whatever
is in my head. To show you the extremes of this, I took a political science
course, Political Theory, starting with Aristotle and Plato and running up to
date. [The book for the course had excerpts from the great thinkers.] At the
beginning, I thought – this seems so incredible that I would’ve ever thought
this – [. . .] I said to myself, “well I have to really work hard at this so I’m
going to read the whole book” [laughter]. Well there are only about twenty
pages from Plato or Aristotle or what have you in the textbook. In a couple
months I had to give that up. That was impossible. I think what happened is
the excerpts started getting shorter and shorter and the books [longer and
longer]. So I surprised myself and I did better than I thought I would the first
year. I got half A’s and half B’s, and then the second year, except for one
half course, that was the only B I got, and that came from – I’ll never forget
this to this day – taking calculus, and it was a three-hour exam and I was
– -60-
finished in an hour, but I could not get one problem [laughter]. I just simply
could not get one problem.
MR. STEINBACH: I’m sorry this process is bringing back bad memories [laughter].
MR. TERRIS: I died that I couldn’t get one problem. I got a B. From that point on, all my
grades at Harvard were A’s. My experience there, I worked enormously
hard, I had a small group of very close friends, they expanded my horizons
very, very substantially. Just one small indication, they loved to go to good
movies, so I went with them. I probably saw every good English movie that
came out during those years. Alec Guinness and all the rest of them. Then
my junior year, instead of taking four courses I took five because I wanted to
take three my last year so I could write my thesis. I really didn’t have any
idea what I wanted to write it on.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us what you decided to major in.
MR. TERRIS: I majored in History, with particular attention to American. I also took
European History and also took Chinese and Japanese History. I took
American History, with unbelievably good professors. The two Schlesingers
[Arthur Sr. and Arthur Jr.], [Oscar] Handlin, who was an expert on
immigration, and Frederick Merk, who was an expert on the Westward
Movement. Those lectures were just wonderful. I took Economics, basic
economics, which I’m certainly glad I did. I took Constitutional Law from a
historical point of view, not of course the way a law school would teach it.
Those were probably most of the courses I took.
The mentor for my thesis was Sydney Ahlstrom, a very young man at
– -61-
the time who later became a foremost authority on American Protestantism.
He’s the one who suggested that I write my thesis on the foreign policy views
of Charles Beard. I put an enormous amount into this thesis. I rented an
apartment – it wasn’t really an apartment, it was one room – and I used to go
there every afternoon. I’d go to class in the morning, go to the apartment in
the afternoon, and come back to the library and study for my classes in the
evening. I read I believe everything that Beard ever wrote, and he wrote a
lot. My trouble was, and I’ve always had this trouble, trying to be too
comprehensive, and there was a limit on how long your thesis should be. It
became apparent that I was going to exceed it, and so I had to change the
thesis title to the Foreign Policy Views of Charles Beard Prior to
World War II. I finished the thesis, and there was a three-person oral exam
in which [Samuel] Huntington was on it and the younger Schlesinger, and
I’ve forgotten the third person. I was so stressed. I can remember the most
stupid answer that I gave because they asked me – and why I couldn’t have
anticipated this I don’t know – what was my favorite American novel. Well I
was exceedingly poorly read, as I’ve said to you before about how bad I was
at literature anyway, that the only novel whose name came to my mind was
Moby Dick. The most standard answer that anybody could ever possibly
give. Anyway, that’s my recollection of that oral examination.
Before that I had become a member of senior Phi Beta Kappa, which
means that after the group of the first eight, I was in the 16 after the first
eight, which was based entirely on my grades, and this was not going to
– -62-
mean what my honors were going to be. And the question was whether I
would get a summa. I went home after my final exams and had an operation
for a polynoidal cyst, and as I was coming out of my anesthetic, my mother
was standing there, and she said to me, “You got a summa!”
MR. STEINBACH: That was a nice recovery [laughter]. That’s great. Other college memories?
MR. TERRIS: As I say, I did very little on an extracurricular basis. I tried out for the
freshman tennis team. I didn’t make it. I really wasn’t even close to those
other guys. I learned to play squash, which I could play reasonably well, but
unfortunately I haven’t played since. I enjoyed school really a lot.
MR. STEINBACH: Did the Korean War affect your college experience in any way?
MR. TERRIS: Not really. I had an exemption, and after the war it was possible I would be
drafted. It turned out they didn’t draft me because of my eyesight. But no. I
paid attention to it. The bigger thing during college was McCarthyism.
MR. STEINBACH: Good, I was going to ask you about that.
MR. TERRIS: That certainly was a big thing among my small group of friends. At that
point I think, as I said to you before, some of my political views were based
on rebellion. Since everybody that I was dealing with were liberal
Democrats, I became a moderate Republican [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Fascinating.
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t defend McCarthyism, but the very fact that I wasn’t screaming in the
halls about it – I can remember the hearings and all that kind of stuff; it was
constantly being talked about – the very fact that I hadn’t gone berserk about
it made me seem to be a fascist to my colleagues. That was probably the big
– -63-
political event. The interesting thing was that I was enough of a moderate
Republican – it’s kind of interesting compared to what happened later when I
got out of college, got out of law school. I for a brief period of time did some
work for John Kennedy’s opponent in the Senate race [in 1952] who I
believe, I’m not sure of this, was [Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.]. But that
shows you how much of a rebel I am [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: So you had some political activity in college.
MR. TERRIS: Very minor.
MR. STEINBACH: Right before you graduated, I guess, the Brown v. Board of Education [347
U.S. 483 (1954)] decision came down. Do you remember that at all?
MR. TERRIS: I remember it, but I’m not sure exactly, I can’t even remember the date in
comparison to my graduation. My graduation was, of course in college was
1954, so it’s got to be the same time. It could have been after I graduated.
MR. STEINBACH: It was in May I think of 1954.
MR. TERRIS: We weren’t lawyers. Most of us didn’t even care about being lawyers.
MR. STEINBACH: When was the [Lodge]-Kennedy election?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was relatively early after I came to Harvard. It might have even
been 1950, right after I came.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you ever tell Bobby Kennedy that you did that?
MR. TERRIS: No [laughter]. He might have thrown me out.
MR. STEINBACH: If you have the indulgence, let’s take you from college to law school. When
did you first start thinking about law school as somewhat of a certainty?
– -64-
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know if it was a certainty, but at the time when I took the
Constitutional Law course, that was the reason for taking it.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember who taught that?
MR. TERRIS: [Robert McCloskey.]
MR. STEINBACH: But that was part of planting the seed that maybe you’d be interested in law?
MR. TERRIS: The course wasn’t really a good test because there’s a huge difference
between constitutional law as a historical phenomenon and constitutional law
as a lawyer. But I was interested in the course, and I thought it was
something of a decent test.
MR. STEINBACH: So you decided to apply to law school. You went straight through from
college to law school?
MR. TERRIS: Exactly.
MR. STEINBACH: So you would have had to have applied during your last year or two of
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: What took you to Harvard Law School?
MR. TERRIS: I never even thought of any other place. I knew it was an awfully good law
school. I knew Cambridge, and I liked Cambridge. The details of trying to
find a place to live, to have somebody to live with, all those kinds of things
would be much easier. It never even occurred to me to go anywhere else.
MR. STEINBACH: Before you started Harvard Law School, did you have any sense what you
might do with a law degree?
– -65-
MR. TERRIS: That’s kind of a hard question. I don’t think I really thought I was going to
go into a big law firm, but again I knew almost nothing. It seems amazing
today, everybody knows so much. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the
structure of the law world in any real sense – how big law firms, smaller law
firms, government operate – I knew almost nothing about that kind of thing,
so I didn’t think in any kind of detail, even moderate detail, about what I was
going to do. I was going to become a lawyer and then I’d figure it out.
MR. STEINBACH: So Harvard Law School, from 1954 to 1957 – give us an overview from a
very sort of high level of your experience there.
MR. TERRIS: Again, maybe even more than when I went to college, you’d think I was
tremendously confident, I had done well at Harvard College. I wasn’t.
Before classes started the first year, there was a meeting of all the first-year
students. The Dean loved to say at this meeting before classes started, [. . .]
look to the left of you and look to the right of you, two of the three of you are
not going to be here at the end of this year [laughter]. He then said, that isn’t
quite the way it is anymore. In any event, I was quite scared, am I going to
be able to do decently? I guess I thought I wouldn’t be a dropout or fail.
When I went to Harvard Law School – and I’m still a tremendous believer in
the Socratic method; I’ve taught a year at law school – almost everybody
taught the Socratic method. That, for somebody like me, was enormously
stressful. I think probably to everybody, but it was very stressful. You say to
yourself, “They’re not telling me anything. What are the rules? What are the
principles? What are all these questions?” And never an answer. Very
– -66-
frightening. The great master of this, Warren Seavey, taught me Agency.
Most of the other people too, Professor [Benjamin] Kaplan was probably the
greatest professor I ever had. It was just very difficult to put your arms
around it and say, “I understand. I’ve got this.”
Then in the middle of the first year they had practice exams which were
graded by second-year law students. I was very mediocre. I never
volunteered in class. It seems strange, isn’t it, I’m a litigator for 50-odd
years, and I’m basically an introverted person, and I never volunteered. My
first year, they had you sit in particular seats so they could call on you, and
they went around the room systematically so I had to answer. After that, I
never sat in my assigned seat, I always sat in the back. I think it may be true
that I never said a word in class my second and third years. I won’t swear to
that, but that may be true. So I went through the year, I studied enormously
hard, as I said before, nobody ever out-worked me, took the exams, studied
very hard for the exams, went back to California, my family had moved there
– we haven’t come to that yet. My family moved in 1954 when I graduated
from college. My father set up his new medical practice. I found out my
grades, which were very close to the top of the class, and then I found out
that I had been elected to the Harvard Law Review. So that of course
changed the world considerably.
The second year, I didn’t do quite as well on the midterms. I did well
enough, but not quite as well. And then in the end of May or June, whenever
the exams were, I essentially physically collapsed, undoubtedly from the
– -67-
strain of the work. I used to go to class in the morning, I’d then go to the
Law Review from probably 1:00 after eating lunch and stay there to 9:00 in
the evening, except for eating dinner, and then I would work from 9:00 to
1:00 or 2:00 in the morning on my classwork. And I did that every single
day. Obviously the weekends I didn’t have class. I literally collapsed. At
the time when exams started, my father the good doctor, found me a doctor in
Boston who happened to be a Nobel Prize winner. I went into Peter Bent
Brigham Hospital, and there I was lying for the next couple of weeks during
exams and the Vice Dean (many jokes about the term “Vice Dean”)
Livingston Hall came to visit me to make sure that I was really not faking
[laughter]. They didn’t require me to take the exams over again – I think
believing that since I had done so well the first year that maybe there was a
possibility that I really was sick [laughter]. So I went back to California and
immediately my temperature went to 105. So I did have something very
MR. STEINBACH: Do you know what it was?
MR. TERRIS: There was some talk that it was hepatitis. I don’t think probably that was
what it ended up. It was some virus.
MR. STEINBACH: This is the end of your second year?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. The end of my second year. I had forgotten, I had been elected to
Article Editor of the Law Review in the spring, so I had to come back to
Harvard for the Law Review early to start work on putting out the initial
editions. I worked very hard during my third year too. Fortunately I did not
– -68-
get sick. My grades were approximately the same. I think they went down a
couple of places in the class. But I enjoyed Harvard Law School, even
though I was working tremendously hard. I found it fascinating, challenging.
I found the Law Review enormously challenging. The work on my case note
and the broader note taught me an enormous amount about writing, going
over every single word. I mean, the number of hours that we spent going
over my note that ended up I think being six pages of the Law Review, we
probably spent 20 to 30 hours going over it. We took apart every sentence,
every word, “Why did you do this, why is this word here, why did you
choose this word not that?” It was done, when I was a second-year student, a
third-year student working with me on it.
MR. STEINBACH: What was the topic?
MR. TERRIS: It was a totally dull, horrible topic. I can’t even remember what it was
exactly. It was a terrible topic, as to which I had no choice. They were
assigned. So that’s pretty much how law school ended.
MR. STEINBACH: Any other memorable professors? You mentioned Professor Seavey and
Professor Kaplan. Did you take Archibald Cox?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I had him as a teacher in Labor Law. There were a lot of awfully good
professors. When they were electives, I tended to choose my courses by the
professor. I took all of Kaplan’s courses. I think I took Patent and
MR. STEINBACH: Just because he taught it?
– -69-
MR. TERRIS: Because he taught it. And [Louis Loss], who had been head of the SEC. I
chose him because he was so good as a teacher. I didn’t care about securities
litigation. I had Paul Freund. I also had Henry Hart.
MR. STEINBACH: Was the Justice Department, Internal Security Division, is that the first job
you had out of law school?
MR. TERRIS: Yes it was, but before that, I was going to go to Cravath after my second
year. I don’t know why. I think I wanted to find out what big law firms were
like, but because I got sick, that got cancelled. Then my third year I decided
I wasn’t going to a big law firm. I tried to get a clerkship. Then, clerkships
in the Supreme Court were directly from law school. You didn’t go to a
Court of Appeals clerkship first. So I applied to two or three Supreme Court
Justices. Strangely enough I can’t even remember whether I had an
interview. I think I didn’t, but I’m not really sure. I also applied to about
three court of appeals judges, two or three, where I did have interviews.
These are the people I wanted, and I didn’t get those. I didn’t try to get
anything else. I wasn’t really that interested in a clerkship, but obviously a
Supreme Court clerkship is one thing, or a Judge David Bazelon clerkship, or
a Skelly Wright, that’s a different ballgame. But I wasn’t as such interested
in a clerkship. It’s not surprising that I didn’t get the ones where I had
interviews. I graduated from [high school] when I was 16. I graduated from
law school when I was 23, and I was a basically fairly immature 16 and 23.
There would be a lot of people coming out of Harvard Law School who
would have done a lot better than I would. So despite my having good
– -70-
grades, and of course other people would have good grades too, it wasn’t
terribly surprising. I was only interested in coming to Washington. The
young woman who I was interested in had come here, so whether I would’ve
come to Washington otherwise, I’m not sure. It’s conceivable I wouldn’t
have. It’s conceivable I would have gone to San Francisco. But there of
course there was no obvious place to go unless it was a big law firm, and I
wasn’t that interested at the time.
MR. STEINBACH: I think we should save for next time your starting in the Internal Security
Division of the Justice Department. I just wondered if there was any
employment you had after law school before you entered the Justice
MR. TERRIS: No. I can tell you why I ended up there and we can go on next time. The
Justice Department, and they may still have this, had something called the
Honors Program. Obviously it’s intended to attract people who had done
reasonably well in law school, so I decided that I did want to go to the
Department of Justice and I wanted to deal with constitutional-type issues.
There was no such thing as a Civil Rights Division then. It was a section of
the Civil Division, and if you went to the Civil Division, you couldn’t be
guaranteed you’d go to the Civil Rights Division. I didn’t want to go to the
Civil Division if it wasn’t the Civil Rights Division, so I decided – and there
have been a lot of comments about this over my career since then – I chose to
go to the Internal Security Division, which did deal indeed with
constitutional issues [laughter].
– -71-
MR. STEINBACH: That will be fascinating to explore next time. Can we do just one other area
very tangentially? Maybe we’ll come back to this, but since this is the part in
the oral history that’s focused on more of your personal family background,
can you tell me just briefly about your wife and your children, your family?
MR. TERRIS: Sure. First of all, I’ve had two wives. My first wife, Shirley DuVal, was a
Catholic, and a deep-seeded part of my personality I think is to be very
interested in religion. I’d actually gone out for a fair length of time with a
Catholic girl before I went out with Shirley. I met Shirley in law school, and
we got married a year after I came to Washington. I had become very deeply
immersed in Catholicism and I became a Catholic, and this caused an
enormous rupture with my father, who did not talk to me for two years, and
only because of my mother’s strenuous activities, we got back together, and
we did fully get back together. I was a practicing Roman Catholic through
all the time that my wife lived, and she died very suddenly from an aneurism.
Very suddenly. Within hours.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have children at that point?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. We had three children. They were adopted. The two older are girls,
and the youngest is a boy. We lived here in Washington. We lived in
Crestwood, which is not a segregated community. Quite the opposite. The
children went to private schools. The oldest daughter went to where you
teach, Sidwell, for high school. I think she may have gone to public school
before then. I think that’s possible. I can’t actually remember exactly. The
next daughter went to a Catholic school, and the son went to Beauvoir and
– -72-
then later went, after I returned to Judaism, went to Charles E. Smith, the
Jewish school.
MR. STEINBACH: How old were your children when your first wife died?
MR. TERRIS: I thought I had it written down.
MR. STEINBACH: We can look and come back to this.
MR. TERRIS: The children – the oldest daughter was around 15, and the boy was I think
about 8.
MR. STEINBACH: Then you subsequently remarried after your first wife’s death?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: And your current wife’s name is?
MR. TERRIS: Sally Gillespie. She also is not Jewish, but she is not practicing anything,
and she’s the person that said, “If you’re a Jew – I had at that point stopped
being Catholic – if you’re supposedly a Jew, why don’t you do something
about it?” And that led to a whole sequence which we can talk about in more
detail because that’s a long story.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay. And tell me just quickly what your three children do today.
MR. TERRIS: My daughter went through nursing school and became a midwife and now
works for an insurance company in managing difficult medical cases. In
other words, what kind of care they get so that they get good care and also I
guess don’t bleed the insurance company. I suspect that’s how it would be
The second daughter doesn’t work. She did work as a secretary in a
Jewish school. Her husband is a patent draftsman. The children are scattered
– -73-
all over the place. The oldest daughter is in San Diego. My second daughter
is in Seattle.
My son is in Berkeley. He, I suppose in some way influenced by me, went
to law school and he graduated from Berkeley. He had graduated from
Hebrew University as an undergraduate, and then he went through Berkeley,
went into a private law firm, which he detested, and then decided he was
going to be a therapist, so he is now a therapist, which he loves. So that’s
what the three of them do.
Sally Gillespie has a daughter named Sally Phillips, and she is a fairly
senior official in the Department of the Treasury. She runs a unit there. She
was deeply involved in the bailouts of the banks over the last few years. So
except for my second daughter, all of them have a lot of education. The
daughter of Sally Gillespie, who I regard fully as my daughter, because she
came to live with us when she was still a teenager, she has an MBA degree,
and my son has [law and therapy degrees]. My oldest daughter has a nursing
degree from Case Western.
MR. STEINBACH: I guess I should ask you about your current wife’s profession or career.
MR. TERRIS: The reason I got to know her is she was the office manager of this office.
MR. STEINBACH: Your current law firm?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, this law firm.
MR. STEINBACH: Well why don’t we leave it for now, Bruce, and we’ll pick up next time with
you coming to Washington and joining the Eisenhower Justice Department,
– -74-
and we’ll go from there through the Kennedy years and it should be quite
MR. TERRIS: Okay. I hope so.
MR. STEINBACH: Thank you so much.
– -75-
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Thursday,
December 4, 2014. This is the third interview.
MR. STEINBACH: Good afternoon, Bruce.
MR. TERRIS: Good afternoon.
MR. STEINBACH: We had just taken your story up to the end of your days in college and your
graduation from Harvard Law School, and I want to start with a big-picture
question. When you got out of law school, did you have a sense of what your
career might be like, what you might do with your law degree?
MR. TERRIS: No, except I wasn’t really interested in going to a big law firm and making a
lot of money. I had signed up with, of all people, Cravath after my second
year of law school. As it happened, I got very sick at the end of the second
year of law school, and so I didn’t ever go to Cravath. I was just sort of
trying to find out, if I’d gone there, probably why I didn’t like it. I wasn’t
really thinking that’s what I wanted to do. So when I was getting out of law
school, I basically was looking at two places. I tried to get a clerkship, and I
also applied to the Department of Justice. They had something called then
the Honors Program; I think they still do. I felt quite confident that I was
going to get a job there. I had done well in law school, so I was trying to get
a clerkship.
– -76-
MR. STEINBACH: We talked last time that in the end, in lieu of a clerkship, you took the
position with the Honors Program.
MR. TERRIS: I was looking at a very narrow spectrum, which was Supreme Court Justices,
and a couple of the best Court of Appeals judges in the country, and I didn’t
get those, so I was happy to go into the Honors Program.
MR. STEINBACH: So it’s the Fall of 1957. You apply, and you’re accepted. The Honors
Program, was that a one-year commitment back then?
MR. TERRIS: No, it was becoming a lawyer in the Department of Justice without any
particular commitment.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have any choice where you were assigned at the beginning?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. They asked where you wanted to be assigned. I went into something
that my liberal friends consider a grave deficit on my resume [laughter]. I
went into the Internal Security Division, which, of course, its main purpose,
although not only purpose, was in the efforts to deal with Communism in the
country. The reason I went there was really because I wanted to be involved
in constitutional law, so I didn’t want to go in the Civil Division which has a
scattering of all kinds of stuff, or the Criminal Division, which handles
various kinds of criminal things. I really wanted to deal with constitutional
law, and that’s what the Internal Security Division did, so I went into the
Appellate Section of the Internal Security Division.
MR. STEINBACH: This part of the Department of Justice was established, I think, in the
Eisenhower Administration.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
– -77-
MR. STEINBACH: What was the purpose? You mentioned briefly dealing with Communists
inside the United States. What was the purpose of the Internal Security
Division that you thought when you got there?
MR. TERRIS: The purpose was the country believed that it had a very serious problem of
Communist infiltration in a variety of different kinds of places. It had a
number of statutes and it had investigations by Congress. There was some
actual spying going on by the Soviet Union. It handled those kinds of cases.
It also handled some other kinds of things like enforcing whatever that’s
called now – the Foreign Agents Registration Act, I believe it is. It’s been a
long time since I’ve dealt with that. So it did some other things too.
MR. STEINBACH: When you were in law school, did you have any interest or take any classes
relating to internal security issues?
MR. TERRIS: No. I doubt there were any.
MR. STEINBACH: Why did it interest you? Why did you pick that as one of the places in DOJ
that you would like to work, and in fact ended up working?
MR. TERRIS: Really because I wanted to deal with constitutional issues. There was no
Civil Rights Division, I believe, at the time. Or maybe it was just being
started, I can’t remember. I don’t believe it existed. But in any event, [the
Internal Security Division] seemed like the place where I would be most
likely to get constitutional issues and not be diverted with other things which
I really didn’t want to do.
MR. STEINBACH: And you ended up in the Appellate Section, so were you ever involved in
doing the actual underlying investigations in the Internal Security Division?
– -78-
MR. TERRIS: No. It was all litigation. I think some of it actually was in district courts, but
a lot of it was appellate, and even though I was fresh out of law school, I got
to argue one or two cases. It was, as it turned out, a tremendous place to be
because there was a guy there, I can remember to this day his name, Philip
Monahan, who did the reviewing of everything. I used to turn into him
twenty pages of nicely typed-up material on white paper, and I would get
back from him a pile of yellow paper. It was entirely in his handwriting.
The only thing left of my white paper were the block quotes that he had cut
out and stapled onto it, and I learned how to write a brief.
MR. STEINBACH: As a government lawyer, he was your main teacher?
MR. TERRIS: He was my main teacher, and he was terrific.
MR. STEINBACH: Would you have had any contact at all with J. Edgar Hoover and all the FBI
folks who were doing all the internal investigations?
MR. STEINBACH: Do you regret not having that kind of exciting contact?
MR. TERRIS: That would have been interesting to have had some contact like that, but I
was just the lawyer who’s handling what comes out of the pipe.
MR. STEINBACH: So these cases are investigated and tried and either won or lost, and then it’s
just handed to you to win the appeal.
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember what kind of cases you handled on appeal for the Internal
Security Division?
– -79-
MR. TERRIS: I really don’t. A little later, I guess, we’ll come to what I did in the Solicitor
General’s Office on this subject, because I handled essentially all the cases
that came to the Solicitor General’s Office of that kind, and we can talk about
how that happened to occur.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay. So do you remember anything while you’re still in the Internal
Security Division where you had to take a position or argue about the Smith
Act or the Subversive Control Act or any of the statutes that the government
was enforcing back then?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t really have any recollection. This was a long time ago, but my
recollection is that I didn’t really handle the big cases like when I was in the
Solicitor General’s Office; what I handled in the Internal Security Division
was much more routine, ordinary cases.
MR. STEINBACH: The Internal Security Division was run by this famous guy at the time,
Tommy Tompkins. Do you remember him? Any contact with him at all?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember any contact.
MR. STEINBACH: And there was a famous case during the time period, a prosecution of a
Soviet spy whose American name was Rudolf Abel. Any connection with
MR. TERRIS: I handled that case when I was in the Solicitor General’s Office.
MR. STEINBACH: Later on and after he had lost and appealed its way up?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: What do you remember about that story, even if it’s a little ahead of the
– -80-
MR. TERRIS: It was just an interesting case. In other words, nothing very unusual
happened in my work on that case, but it was a big case.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re at the Internal Security Division for about a year before you
transfer over generally to the Solicitor General’s Office.
MR. TERRIS: Almost exactly.
MR. STEINBACH: Did the Internal Security Division linger on during the Kennedy years?
MR. TERRIS: It did linger. I have now forgotten when it got abolished. I don’t think it got
abolished that promptly. An interesting thing, because you won’t ask a
question about this – years later, when Robert Kennedy was a Senator from
New York, I got a call. I can’t now remember if it was from him personally
or from his office, I think it must have been from his office. Would I like to
run a study of whether it made any sense at that point – this is now in the
mid-1960s – to continue all these legal efforts to deal with Communism in
the United States? I was asked how much [the study] would cost. I made
some guesstimate, and that’s certainly all it was, and I never heard back. It
showed Kennedy was wondering too whether all this made much sense, at
least at that point. Maybe it made sense at an earlier point, but not at that
MR. STEINBACH: What was your assessment at the time – I know we have 50 years of
reflection on this in the meantime, but at the time, when you were in the
Eisenhower days – what was your assessment of the significance of the
Communist or the subversive threat to the country?
– -81-
MR. TERRIS: Well I certainly thought it was exaggerated. I’ll give you an illustration that I
gave to people at that time. I believe it was the Communist party in
Montana, but it might have been Wyoming. It had, I remember reading in
legal papers in my litigation work, three members. Two of them were FBI
informants. So they had three people who were mostly spending their time
informing on each other, because of course they didn’t know who was an
informant. That was to a considerable degree what I thought that this was
about. That in other words, it was exaggerated. It was people getting
themselves worked up where I certainly thought attention should be paid to
it, but that it was too much and certainly to some degree was distorting legal
principles that we had in the country. On the other hand, I didn’t completely
agree with the liberal position, at least of some liberals, that this was all
nonsense, that it really didn’t matter who was a Communist and who wasn’t
and that these were just people with concern for the poor and for minorities
and what have you. That was not something that I accepted, and I still don’t.
Communism was a terrible doctrine, and the fact that many people in this
country had sympathies for it for good, moral reasons, did not make it any
less a terrible doctrine.
MR. STEINBACH: And meanwhile there were people like Abel who were actual Soviet agents.
MR. TERRIS: Absolutely. He was in a different category. Certainly the country had to
deal with people of that kind.
– -82-
MR. STEINBACH: So you were somewhat skeptical, you just said, while you were in DOJ. Do
you remember any tension or struggle between the skeptics and the true
MR. TERRIS: No, but I can’t say that I became a dissident, so to speak. But there’s no
doubt that the other people, most of the other people in the Division, had a
considerably more aggressive attitude than I did, and probably most of them
came to the Division because they had an aggressive attitude, just like I
would have been gone into the Civil Rights Division if there had been one.
Ultimately when [the Civil Rights Division] was created, that’s the kind of
people that went into it.
MR. STEINBACH: But this was three years, when you joined, three years passed since the fall
from grace of McCarthy and the Supreme Court had started to cut back on
the government’s sort of broader prosecutions. Times had changed a little bit
when you first got involved in it. Did you get to do any constitutional issues
in that Division?
MR. TERRIS: I’m sure I did, but the cases I handled there were not really big deal cases.
My guess is that the more important cases didn’t go to a guy who just walked
out of law school.
MR. STEINBACH: You’ve kind of hinted that you’ve taken some flack over the years from your
liberal friends for this first career start. What do you think about that now,
and what do you say to them?
MR. TERRIS: As I said to you a moment ago, my basic attitude was that a considerable
amount of the attention to Communism was appropriate. Obviously people
– -83-
like McCarthy and some of the other people in Congress who ran the House
Un-American Activities Committee, I didn’t agree with them then and I don’t
agree with them now. However, dealing with Communism then was a much
more complicated question than the way I think it got posed very frequently
between people like McCarthy, who didn’t care a bit about civil liberties of
anybody and were not at all careful about the facts, and people who said, well
there’s nothing to this at all, the country shouldn’t be paying any attention to
it, it’s a terrible violation of civil liberties to be even inquiring about this kind
of thing. I think that discussion was not a good discussion, and I think it was
a legitimate question for the country to be investigating, but on a more
intelligent basis than often was occurring.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have the sense that the Eisenhower people had their eye, at least in
part, on the preservation of civil liberties?
MR. TERRIS: I did. I thought that when I was in law school, and I thought that later on as
well. Certainly Eisenhower was not a McCarthyite, and I think he saw it as
serious problem about the line the country should take.
MR. STEINBACH: You mentioned a few minutes ago that even after you left the Internal
Security Division, some of Internal Security matters got transitioned over to
MR. TERRIS: When I came to the Solicitor General’s Office – I really need to tell you what
happened in going into the Solicitor General’s Office because then you can
put it into some context.
MR. STEINBACH: Alright. Go ahead.
– -84-
MR. TERRIS: I got chosen to go to the Solicitor General’s Office out of the blue, not to be
an Assistant to the Solicitor General, but to be the personal assistant to the
Solicitor General, J. Lee Rankin. J. Lee Rankin for a year had had somebody
who was his personal assistant, and he was supposed to help on speech
writing, research into speeches, and things like that, not to be a regular
member of the Solicitor General’s Office. That’s what I was asked to come
and do. Oscar Davis, the First Assistant to the Solicitor General, a wonderful
man and a wonderful lawyer, chose me because he and I had the same grades
at Harvard College. That’s what I was told later on. Not law school,
Harvard College. Even though I was not going to be an Assistant to the
Solicitor General, that still seemed to me a wonderful opportunity. It was a
one-year job. After I got there, I did a lot of fooling around, putzing around I
would say, and helping the Solicitor General on speeches he was going to
give. I can remember I did an elaborate research job into the inadequate
assistance of counsel in criminal cases. J. Lee Rankin was the kind of
Republican that doesn’t seem to exist much today – meaning he was an
excellent, fine person, not a great lawyer, but a perfectly adequate lawyer, but
certainly not a great lawyer, excellent ideals and ethics and all those kinds of
things. So I helped him for a while, and then it became clear that there really
wasn’t a job there. There wasn’t a full-time job, so they started giving me
minor stuff to edit, which was the main job of the Solicitor General’s Office,
to edit materials that come out of the various divisions of the Department of
Justice. So I started editing oppositions [to certiorari] in habeas corpus cases,
– -85-
prisoners who were filing papers in the Supreme Court. And so I did that for
a while, and I guess somebody in the Solicitor General’s Office thought I
wasn’t such a terrible lawyer, even though I wasn’t an Assistant to the
Solicitor General, so they made me an Assistant to the Solicitor General.
The office was made up, although I never asked this question, of all liberals,
and they were getting these cases that came out of Internal Security. None of
them wanted to handle these cases, so they said Bruce Terris, he’s an expert,
right? He spent a year in the Internal Security Division, so we’ll give him all
these cases, and that’s what happened. I think for a number of years every
one of these cases that came in the office, I was the editor of the brief, and I
argued some of them.
MR. STEINBACH: So this became your bailiwick, like it or not, for the rest of your SG years?
MR. TERRIS: Well, no. First of all, it tapered off, just because the cases weren’t there. I
don’t know what my percentage in a year would be, I would guess 15% or
something like that. I did the regular work in the office, but this little slot
they figured they could dump on me.
MR. STEINBACH: What was Solicitor General Rankin’s background?
MR. TERRIS: He came from Nebraska, and I think he was in private practice. He was a
very decent guy.
MR. STEINBACH: So you served as his personal assistant, wrote speeches, not that much to do,
they gave you other briefs to edit. Anything else during that one year when
you were his personal assistant that you can recall?
– -86-
MR. TERRIS: Not really. As I said a moment ago, there wasn’t a job really there. The guy
before me, I don’t know what he was doing for a year, but there certainly
wasn’t enough work for me. So I can remember when I first came there I
worked on the inadequate assistance of counsel, but after that, that was a big
project, but after that, I really didn’t have much to do. So I think that’s when
it began to dawn on people that this was not a good arrangement.
MR. STEINBACH: So in 1959 you become an Assistant to the Solicitor General, and that’s the
title you retain until you leave the Justice Department in 1965, is that right?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: Before we get a little specific about all the administrations and your
particular cases you argued, just talk about the duties and responsibilities of
being an Assistant to the Solicitor General. What was it like then?
MR. TERRIS: It was a tremendous place to work for somebody of any age, but for
somebody my age, it was an absolutely marvelous place to work. Of course
the people, it was a small office then – not like now, it has close to thirty
lawyers now. I believe we had nine then, and I can’t remember if that
included the Solicitor General or not. A very small group. Everybody ate
lunch together; one or two people might have something else to do; not the
Solicitor General, but everybody else went to lunch together. We talked law
during lunch, people talked about their cases, so it wasn’t just my cases that I
was working on, I was listening to what people were saying about the other
cases. I can still remember our vehement conversations about the sit-in cases
a little bit later and how people would formulate an argument for the sit-ins.
– -87-
There was a lawyer there by the name of Wayne Barnett, he was a
phenomenal lawyer about tax matters and had a tremendous ability to think
through those matters, and I can remember at lunches talking about those
cases. It was an enormously valuable learning experience.
MR. TERRIS: Of course. There were almost no women in the profession at the time.
MR. STEINBACH: So even by 1965, still all men in the Solicitor General’s Office?
MR. TERRIS: All men.
MR. STEINBACH: Was the SG’s Office viewed then, as it is now, as the Tenth Justice – did it
have that stature that it currently does?
MR. TERRIS: Well the people there thought that, let’s put it that way [laughter]. It had
tremendous stature, and its stature certainly grew when Archibald Cox came
in to be the Solicitor General. Archibald Cox was the best oral advocate I
have ever seen.
MR. STEINBACH: Leaving aside personalities for now and specific cases for now, what was the
day-to-day job like for you during those six years?
MR. TERRIS: A brief would come to me, sometimes it would be a brief on the merits, and it
would be 40 or 50 pages long.
MR. STEINBACH: Written by whom?
MR. TERRIS: It comes out of the Division, the Appellate Section of the Division. It comes
up, probably in most instances went through the Assistant Attorney General
in the Division. I don’t know how much they touched it. It probably
depends on the personality of those people. And then it would come to the
– -88-
bottom of the Solicitor General’s Office – me. I would edit it, sometimes
talking to the author, sometimes not if I didn’t need to. So I would edit. It
would then go to the First Assistant or the Second Assistant to the Solicitor
General, depending what the category of case it was, and then it would go to
the Solicitor General. Usually there were not a tremendous amount of
changes made in the later process, so the editing was really done by me and
people at my level.
MR. STEINBACH: This might depend on a specific case, but would you get involved in
decisions about what the government’s position should be in front of the
Supreme Court?
MR. TERRIS: Yes and no. Most of the time, the position was pretty obvious. Most cases
don’t raise real issues as to the Government’s position. I told you in detail
about how in the reapportionment cases the issue of one man, one vote was
decided by Robert Kennedy. That was certainly an unusual event, that
elaborate a method for determining the government’s position, but
occasionally it occurred. I can give you an example. A case involving the
head of the Communist Party in the United States came to me. I don’t think
certiorari had been granted by the Supreme Court. The government did not
want to allow him out of the country. He had cancer, and it was believed to
be terminal. I’m not sure what the exact motion was, before the Supreme
Court. The question was raised whether to allow him to leave the country.
He wanted to go to the Soviet Union where they would give him free
– -89-
treatment. The issue came to me and I went to the Solicitor General about
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember which administration you were in?
MR. TERRIS: I believe it would have been under Cox, but I’m not entirely positive. I
pointed out to people that our basic attitude seemed to be about Communists
if they wanted to stay in the country, we deported them, and if they wanted to
leave, we didn’t let them leave. And that did not seem to me like much of a
policy, particularly with a man who is apparently dying of cancer and what
possible reason did we have to not let him go? I ended up winning on that
proposition. Once in a while you get situations in which the issue was should
the government confess error, and that would happen from time to time, and
there would be real debate in the Solicitor General’s Office about those kinds
of cases.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’d edit briefs, and ultimately those would go to the Supreme Court.
Who would, in general, determine who argued the cases?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know the answer to that [laughter]. I assume that the First Assistant,
maybe the Second Assistant, would talk to the Solicitor General about that. I
would think that probably the First and Second Assistants had the big voice.
Obviously the Solicitor General would have first choice. Archibald Cox used
to argue two cases a Supreme Court session. In a two-week session, he
would argue two cases. My guess is, and I’m almost positive, J. Lee Rankin
didn’t do that, and probably no other Solicitor General has, that’s an
enormous burden. So he would clearly get first choice, and then somehow a
– -90-
decision was made, to divide up the others. We had so few people there in
the Solicitor General’s Office, each of us would argue about three cases a
MR. STEINBACH: You’re in the SG’s Office for six years. How fun a job was that?
MR. TERRIS: Seven years, six years as Assistant Solicitor General, one other in this lesser
position. It was a tremendous job. When I was there, I thought I was going
to spend the rest of my career there, and I can explain to you why that didn’t
happen a little later.
MR. STEINBACH: But while you were there you loved every minute of it, is that fair?
MR. TERRIS: It’s got to be one of the great legal jobs in the world. It’s a fantastic place to
work. It’s not only the [work was] important, the intellectual atmosphere
was at such a high level. I mean you have so much you can learn from these
other people. Oscar Davis, Philip Elman was the Second Assistant. Having
lunch with them every day, talking law, I mean it was fascinating.
MR. STEINBACH: How hard did you work?
MR. TERRIS: Not terribly. I mean I didn’t goof around, but I basically worked eight hours
a day. It was rare that I needed to work into the evening. It occurred once in
a while, but essentially we had enough people in the office to do the work in
the office. Supreme Court briefs are rarely emergencies. I know now there
are all these death row cases, but when I was there, there weren’t
emergencies for the most part, so you did your work.
MR. STEINBACH: You, Bruce, have probably a pretty unique position in terms of the SG’s
Office history as being someone who worked in three different
– -91-
administrations. Now maybe there are other people in the history of the
country who have done that, but that’s pretty unique to have served in the
SG’s Office under Eisenhower, and then under John Kennedy, and then
under Lyndon Johnson’s administration. So what I would like to do is sort of
take you through each one and get your perspective on not just the SG’s
Office, but the Justice Department under Eisenhower, the Justice Department
under Kennedy, the Justice Department under Johnson. So maybe if we can
start with the Eisenhower administration. Big question: When you got there
and when you worked there, what did you think of the Eisenhower Justice
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t really have a perspective, because of course I hadn’t seen what the
Department of Justice was like under any other administration. I didn’t [have
much of a perspective on the] Justice Department because the Solicitor
General’s Office was really a thing of its own. As I said, all those people
who were in the Solicitor General’s Office, I’m sure, were liberal Democrats.
The Eisenhower administration had done nothing to try to load up even this
very important office with people that were Republicans or conservatives or
anybody else in particular. They let it run itself.
MR. STEINBACH: How did that happen?
MR. TERRIS: In the year 2014 that seems utterly impossible, but it didn’t seem impossible
then, that [was the way] the government was supposed to run. Oscar Davis
and Phil Elman continued to be enormously influential, the First and Second
Assistants, and J. Lee Rankin certainly was not going to load it up [with
– -92-
Republicans]. He couldn’t tell them that they shouldn’t hire this kind of a
person who had terrific credentials, so there was just no effort to turn the
office around into some kind of quasi-political entity.
MR. STEINBACH: So the SG’s Office seems not very ideological at the time.
MR. TERRIS: No. Not at all.
MR. STEINBACH: Would you say that was true of the Eisenhower Justice Department as a
whole, not as ideological as DOJ nowadays would be?
MR. TERRIS: Oh absolutely. I never had the feeling that politics was really involved.
MR. STEINBACH: Again back to the whole Eisenhower Justice Department, I guess you arrived
right when the Attorney General was Herbert Brownell, maybe he was
leaving as you were arriving.
MR. TERRIS: It was Rogers.
MR. STEINBACH: So William Rogers the whole time you were there?
MR. TERRIS: I’m almost sure it was William Rogers. Let me bring up a point that answers
your earlier question a little better. Baker v. Carr went to the Supreme Court
at the end of the Eisenhower Administration. J. Lee Rankin was enthusiastic
about the notion that the government should support [the position] that the
federal courts had jurisdiction over reapportionment. Archibald Cox had
enormous doubt about that.
MR. STEINBACH: I remember you said that. So there’s a deep irony there.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. Isn’t that a tremendous irony?
– -93-
MR. STEINBACH: Is that because, if you know, Rankin just thought that way, or did he have to
take it up the chain of command and get the Eisenhower Administration’s
blessing for that position?
MR. TERRIS: He might have had to go up the chain of command, I really don’t know that.
But I don’t think it was such a difficult thing. I mean Rogers was certainly
no extreme right-winger. So even if he went up the chain of command, I
don’t think he probably would have had any problem with it. Archibald Cox
really embodied in many ways the ideology of Harvard Law School.
Harvard Law School in many ways embodied the philosophy of Felix
Frankfurter, so it’s not too surprising that Cox had that attitude. I don’t know
if I said this to you in our earlier session, when he came out of arguing
Baker v. Carr, he said to Tony Lewis, who was The New York Times
correspondent – talked to him about it and how he felt about the decision
when Baker v. Carr came out, and he said he felt awful.
MR. STEINBACH: Intellectually awful, I guess.
MR. TERRIS: Yeah, right.
MR. STEINBACH: The late 1950s in the Eisenhower Administration are deeply concerned with
desegregation and the aftermath of Brown and Little Rock, the Brown II [349
U.S. 294 (1955)] litigation. Any involvement personally in any of that?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember that much in the Eisenhower Administration. It was
certainly at fever pitch in the early days of the Kennedy Administration. As I
mentioned before, the sit-in cases were a very prominent, enormously
difficult legal issue, intellectually. Everybody in the Solicitor General’s
– -94-
Office was strongly on the side of the sit-ins, but putting together a legal
argument was enormously difficult. That was debated very hotly within the
Office, how that was going to be done. People in the Office were also
involved – I was not involved – in things that were happening in the South, at
least on some of the emergency things. These were emergency-type things
that were occurring. I think some of the people in the office may even have
gone to the South. I have a vague feeling that Steve Pollak, who got us
together on these interviews, was involved in that, but I’m not sure.
MR. STEINBACH: Well we can give him the credit for that if it’s all right with you.
MR. TERRIS: I’m almost sure he was involved in the civil rights issues.
MR. STEINBACH: You’ve mentioned a couple of times that the sit-in cases posed challenges for
the Justice Department. First of all, why is that a federal issue, and second,
what were the challenges, and how did they get resolved?
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t handle the cases, but I was part of a lot of discussions about them. In
order to find that the sit-in convictions could be overturned, you had to find
state action, but what was occurring was classic non-state action. It was
private people saying they didn’t want to have Blacks in their restaurant. The
state action didn’t start until the police came and removed the sit-ins because
the owners of the restaurant said they were trespassing. You go to court, they
get convicted, that’s a state action. The trouble with that argument is that it
converts essentially everything that’s private action into state action.
Somebody walks into my house and I say you have to leave and they won’t
leave, and I call the police department and they arrest him, is that state
– -95-
action? What if I’m a prejudiced person and the reason that I have that view
is that I don’t like Black people? Well generally in this country we assume
that that’s not illegal in the absence of a statute. Maybe terrible, but it’s not
illegal. So that’s the debate, how are you going to work it out? I can’t
remember how the Solicitor General’s Office worked it out, but it did
[laughter]. And the Supreme Court did too.
MR. STEINBACH: So the 1950s are fading away. There’s an exciting election in 1960
involving Eisenhower’s Vice President. Did you have any connection or
involvement at all with Richard Nixon when you were in the SG’s Office?
MR. STEINBACH: So he runs against John Kennedy in 1960, and Kennedy wins, obviously, and
you stay on in the Solicitor General’s office. Is that pretty normal?
MR. TERRIS: That’s totally normal.
MR. STEINBACH: And the fact that he got elected didn’t change what you wanted to do in your
MR. STEINBACH: Okay, so we get a new Solicitor General, who you’ve told us a little bit
about, Archibald Cox, and he’s the SG all the Kennedy years.
MR. TERRIS: Right, and more.
MR. STEINBACH: And even into the Johnson early years. And we have an obviously new
Justice Department run by the President’s brother. How did things change
between the Eisenhower Justice Department and Bobby Kennedy’s Justice
Department, in general?
– -96-
MR. TERRIS: In reality, you wouldn’t feel any change. You wouldn’t feel a change unless
the Justice Department starts taking positions that people would feel were
really wrong. There was a change, though. The appointment of Robert
Kennedy was regarded in the Department of Justice as horrible, absolutely
horrible. I gave a talk yesterday to people here in the office about John and
Robert Kennedy, and in doing so I looked up some quotes from John
Kennedy, and one wonderful quote of John Kennedy was, people had
obviously been criticizing him for appointing his brother as the Attorney
General, and his response was, “Well, I thought that it would be a good thing
if Robert learned a little bit about the law before he went into private
practice” [laughter]. Well that’s sort of what the position in the Department
was, it was thought to be terrible. The prestige of the Department depends at
least to some degree on who the Attorney General is. If the President thinks
it is perfectly appropriate to have the head of the Department of Justice to be
somebody who’s totally unqualified, which he certainly was, the effect on the
morale and the attitude was I think fairly serious. Now what happened over
the next three-plus years: I think by the end he was regarded as a tremendous
Attorney General. I regard him as probably the best Attorney General in my
lifetime, and I think lots of people do. But he certainly didn’t have the
qualifications to become that kind of an Attorney General.
MR. STEINBACH: How did he go from unqualified to the best Attorney General in your
– -97-
MR. TERRIS: Well first of all, the people he appointed at the top levels were excellent. He
was a man who was not the slightest bit afraid of other people being smarter
than he was. He obviously thought that listening to people who are smarter
than you is a pretty smart thing to do. He was enormously serious in what he
did in the decisions he made. I gave an illustration before on a decision
about reapportionment, done in a very serious way. He certainly was not
politically motivated [as to criminal] prosecutions. He prosecuted
Democratic politicians across the country. He went after Jimmy Hoffa –
there’s a lot of debate about whether he went too far, he was too aggressive,
but that was certainly not political, going after one of the most powerful, if
not most powerful, labor union leader in the country. I just think he
impressed people that he was a very, very serious man who wasn’t playing
MR. STEINBACH: How did people get over the fact, if they did, that he was the President’s
brother, and for that reason alone shouldn’t have been the AG?
MR. TERRIS: I’m not sure in a funny way whether they ever got over that. In a sense they
would say, it’s still the wrong decision because it looks bad, but we were
wrong, and the President was right. He was qualified. He did have the
ability to do this. It sure didn’t look it. There was nothing in his record that
proves it, but he proved it by doing the job.
MR. STEINBACH: It sounds like there was a lot of rumbling in the Justice Department when he
was first nominated. Nowadays that would be all over the news, and the
– -98-
opposition in the Senate would use it. Was this all kind of kept quiet, or did
it become public?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know. I can’t remember that. But I think the general thought that
Robert Kennedy wasn’t qualified certainly was public. It was so obvious. I
don’t know how much people went around with an ear to the ground in the
Department of Justice. But I guess you were kind of suggesting how did that
change. I met Robert Kennedy in February 1961. There was a knock on my
door. He walked into my office. He said he was going through the
Department to talk to the people and meet the people that he was going to
work with. That went a long way, I think for most of us. That was pretty
impressive. This guy who is the Attorney General, cares enough. He didn’t
spend much time in my office because he was going to go through the
MR. STEINBACH: That’s remarkable. So you had personal interactions with him on the
reapportionment cases, and then later we’ll talk about even getting involved
in the Robert Kennedy campaign.
MR. TERRIS: I had other interactions too.
MR. STEINBACH: But at Justice, any other specific matters where you and Bobby Kennedy
MR. TERRIS: I was at some meetings where he met with young attorneys and that kind of
thing, but putting that kind of thing aside, which had no real substance,
although certainly people appreciated it. And I probably told you this, I
prepared him for his only argument in the Supreme Court. I should be very
– -99-
careful about the word “prepared,” because I don’t think I did him any
particular good. I don’t know how he prepared, but he seemed to have done
a very good job of preparing. All I did was talk with him. I don’t get the
credit for his oral argument.
MR. STEINBACH: There’s a lot of excitement in the Justice Department during the Kennedy
years with civil rights, and there’s the March on Washington, and the whole
Cuban Missile Crisis. Did any of that atmosphere of excitement permeate
the SG’s Office? Do you remember anything about that?
MR. TERRIS: I think my short answer to you is it permeated the country. That’s partly
what I talked about yesterday when I talked to my colleagues here in my
office, that for people of my generation, that was an extraordinary time in the
country. The feeling that the country could solve its problems, that as a
community we could work together and solve problems, I think was
enormous. Especially for people my age. When John was assassinated, I
was 30. So we’re talking about my late 20s, and I know in my own life how
exciting it was. I was doing community organizing on the street in one of the
poorest sections of Washington, and the excitement in the country made it so
much more thrilling to be doing that kind of work, to be having the feeling
you were making some kind of a contribution to your country. And in John
Kennedy’s great statement about not asking what your country can do for
you but what you can do for your country, to me encapsulated what that
period was like.
– -100-
I asked Robert Kennedy to dedicate our little community center in a
poor area of Washington that we had set up. He came and gave a little talk,
and it was truly remarkable, and of course even more remarkable when I
compare it to what seems to me [the atmosphere in] the country today, which
is so pessimistic, such a feeling of inability to solve problems. That doesn’t
mean, of course, there were no problems then. That’s a different matter.
Civil rights issues were an enormous problem obviously, and not easy to
solve by any means, but it still was just a really marvelous time in the kind of
public sense, community sense.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you ever have any interaction yourself with President Kennedy?
MR. TERRIS: No. The only time I was ever in his physical presence was three weeks
before his assassination, I was invited to a reception at the White House, but I
didn’t talk to him. I didn’t have enough nerve to march up to the President
and start chatting.
MR. STEINBACH: How about Vice President Johnson before he became President?
MR. TERRIS: I happened to [be] with him for a few minutes when he was Majority Leader.
MR. STEINBACH: This was back in the 1950s then?
MR. TERRIS: It had to have been late in the 1950s.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember what that was about?
MR. TERRIS: I do remember. I was given the assignment of escorting the Lord Chancellor
of England around Washington, and one of the things that they gave him to
do was to see Lyndon Johnson. So I went with him to see Lyndon Johnson,
and there were about ten or twelve people in the room, and I had never seen
– -101-
anything like it. It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw. Lyndon
Johnson went around to those twelve people, and I would say in five to ten
minutes, he made every one of them think that he loved them, that he was the
closest friend of theirs they had ever had, that he would remember them for
the rest of their life, and it was just fabulous that he was meeting these
people. When he was finished, you said to yourself, “This man is capable of
becoming President.” Amazing.
MR. STEINBACH: That force of personality.
MR. TERRIS: Amazing. He just occupied the entire space, he just totally occupied it.
MR. STEINBACH: And then he becomes Vice President and sort of disappears. We’re about to
get to the Johnson years.
MR. TERRIS: He’s the absolute opposite of Robert Kennedy’s personality.
MR. STEINBACH: Before we get to Johnson, one other large question. There’s been a lot of
negative commentary over the past several decades about the Kennedy
Justice Department, about the Kennedy years. What’s your reflection on
MR. TERRIS: I guess I don’t even know what this negative commentary is.
MR. STEINBACH: We’ll leave that out then. Sum up what the Kennedy Justice Department was
like in the Kennedy years from your perspective.
MR. TERRIS: My perspective: they were highly professional, excellent people running the
Divisions. None of the things that I saw indicated politics intruding on what
should be professional, legal decision-making. I had a feeling of tremendous
morale. After they got over the beginning that we talked about before –
– -102-
about how could Robert Kennedy possibly be qualified to be Attorney
General, but it became clear that he was qualified. Who knows how he got to
be qualified. The people had a great feeling of morale. I really don’t have
any feeling of how anybody would have a contrary view.
MR. STEINBACH: To be more specific, and I’m not suggesting my view, but there’s been
criticism that the Kennedy folks dragged their feet on civil rights, and it was
in the end Johnson who saved the day. Any perspective on that?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think it’s accurate. Today you imagine that the civil rights revolution
was so obviously the right thing for the country to do, that you somehow read
back from today and say, the President of the United States should have
proposed on Day One sweeping legislation, sweeping orders. Yes, I suppose,
in a certain sense that’s right, but that isn’t the way government works. What
you’re reading back is later history into an earlier time. There is no question
that the Kennedy administration was very worried about how you do this. In
many ways, the power in Congress was in the hands of Southerners, and if
you didn’t do something with Southerners, you were going to have a terrible
time getting legislation through Congress. Somehow you had to meld the
Republicans, who again were a heck of a lot better than they are today on
these kinds of issues, and to meld them with the Northern Democrats, but to
get around enormous power that’s in the Southern Democrats, and also you
have an enormous sociological problem. A democracy, even when it’s doing
the right thing, can’t do it at the end of a bayonet. So there’s no question
about they were not prepared to just go full-tilt, put your head down, we’re
– -103-
going to jam this through. I knew the priest that was in a sense the chaplain
for the Robert Kennedy family, a marvelous man, Father [Richard]
McSorley. He told me a conversation that he had with Robert Kennedy
about segregation and the Catholic Church in the South and how vehement
Kennedy was that this was outrageous. So it wasn’t where the Kennedys
were coming from, it’s how you get to where you want to go.
MR. STEINBACH: That’s good.
One more recollection from the time, August 1963, Martin Luther King’s
March on Washington. Were you here? Do you remember it?
MR. TERRIS: I was there.
MR. STEINBACH: You went to the March? What do you remember about it?
MR. TERRIS: I remember how far away I was from the stage [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have the sense at the time that this would be something that people
would be talking about forever in American history?
MR. TERRIS: Oh yeah. And I was involved – I wasn’t an important person involved – but I
was involved in this. There was something called the Coalition of
Conscience here in Washington. Marion Barry, who, of course, just died,
was in the Coalition of Conscience. Walter Fauntroy was the head of it, and
I was a member, and everybody there who was much more important than I
was. We worked on Home Rule and civil rights issues and poverty issues. I
was doing community organizing in the Shaw neighborhood. I was deeply
involved in all that. During the Kennedy years, there was, again, that’s part
of the feeling that people had, you felt you could go out and do something.
– -104-
You weren’t going to change the world by yourself, but you and millions of
other people might.
MR. STEINBACH: When you did this Coalition of Conscience and your community organizing,
was that as a Department of Justice detail or in your private capacity?
MR. TERRIS: Totally private.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay, we’ll come back to that maybe in the next session.
We talked last time about President Kennedy’s assassination, where you
were, what you remembered.
MR. TERRIS: Nobody forgets that.
MR. STEINBACH: Then suddenly there’s a new President, and you end up working for that new
President for almost two more years. Tell us about the Johnson Justice
Department to the extent that differed from the Kennedy Justice Department.
MR. TERRIS: Well it really didn’t. First of all, for the first part Robert Kennedy was still
Attorney General. Archibald Cox was still the Solicitor General. There
might have been one or two changes in the personnel of the ordinary people
in the office, the top people in the office weren’t changing, so the job really
didn’t change. I’ve told people, for me, that was the end of my youth – the
assassination of John Kennedy was horrendous. So for me it was very
important, but as far as the job was concerned, it really didn’t change other
than the kind of feeling I think lots of people had of this marvelous
opportunity that occurred under John Kennedy was over.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us more why you define that as the end of your youth.
– -105-
MR. TERRIS: Because the feeling that I indicated before. I just felt the country was on
such an upward course, and to have an assassination – it’s one thing to lose in
an election, or both terms are over and you get a new President who may be
entirely different, but to have it end in the way it ended was just so shocking
to the system, shocking as a person. The assassination itself probably had a
greater effect on me than any death that I’ve ever had. I was very close to
my mother and father, but their deaths did not affect me nearly as much.
They were old, their deaths were much more expected. But this had an
effect. The three days after the assassination, my wife and I sat immobilized
looking at the television set and watching this stream of people walking past
the casket, and it was just such a shock. Which of course later on became
even worse in 1968 with both King and Robert Kennedy being shot down,
but 1963 was bad enough.
MR. STEINBACH: So you have those three days of national trauma. What’s it like to go back to
the Justice Department after that?
MR. TERRIS: Well I can’t really remember exactly. I’m sure it affected myself and
everybody else, but, besides what it did to the people’s psychology, the
Department of Justice really wasn’t enormously affected. The same people
were there, the same people took their job very, very seriously, and in
essentially the same way. And certainly Lyndon Johnson, when he came into
office, until his term was blighted by the Vietnam War, people felt very good
about a lot of things that he did. Without the Vietnam War he probably
– -106-
would be considered a near-great President. In that category. He did some
phenomenal things.
MR. STEINBACH: The Vietnam War doesn’t really kick in during your Justice Department years.
So you’re there during the push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Johnson’s
reelection, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the beginning of the Great Society.
What’s your role, the Department of Justice’s role, in those big efforts?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think I had really any direct involvement when I was at the
Department of Justice. The Great Society, the War on Poverty, was my next
job, but the Department of Justice was essentially a continuation of my prior
work. I was still working on reapportionment. Even after Robert Kennedy
left, there was another problem with Archibald Cox about whether he was
going to support one man, one vote in another state, I think it may have been
Colorado. Nicholas Katzenbach, who was the new Attorney General – I
think it was when he was Attorney General, not Deputy Attorney General,
but it was after the assassination, I’m fairly sure – called me in to ask me
about whether there was going to be a problem with Archibald Cox. I really
didn’t know much about it at that point. Cox hadn’t said anything to me.
That worked its way out. Cox did do what the administration wanted. I
don’t know if I said before, the [Kennedy] Administration on this issue was
the President actually because he had written an article on this subject, so he
personally had a position.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about Katzenbach.
– -107-
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t have an enormous amount of contact with him. He was also a smart
man, a good guy, and what [contact] I did have I was impressed by. There
were a lot of good people running the Department.
MR. STEINBACH: I think Archibald Cox stayed on as Solicitor General through about the same
time as you were in the Office and left.
MR. TERRIS: I think he stayed somewhat later because he’s the guy that got rid of me
MR. STEINBACH: A story yet to be told. You have no overlap with Thurgood Marshall, who
becomes the next Solicitor General.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you know him or ever have any professional work with him?
MR. STEINBACH: Any other recollections, thoughts, interactions about Archibald Cox? You’ve
told us about his work on the reapportionment cases, his brilliant background
from Harvard Law School. Any other interactions?
MR. TERRIS: I can tell you a little bit about him as an oral advocate. I’ve never seen
anybody in the Supreme Court do this, and I’m not sure anybody ever has.
He transferred from Harvard Law School to the Supreme Court. He lectured
students like me at Harvard Law School, and he lectured the Supreme Court.
He of course had a posture that was absolutely straight up and down, and so
he would stand there straight up and down telling some people that didn’t
know as much about law as he did what the law was, and he got away with it.
It would have been hard not to get away with it. It would have been hard for
– -108-
a Supreme Court Justice to have dealt with him. He was very smart, he was
very well-prepared, and it would have been difficult, and I didn’t see too
many Justices doing it. They didn’t always of course vote the way he wanted
them to, but he was in command, and that’s not easy in the Supreme Court.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s jump ahead when he was Special Prosecutor. Did you have any
interaction at all then?
MR. STEINBACH: So tell us the story – this is ahead of the game but you brought it up – about
his involvement with your leaving the Solicitor General’s Office.
MR. TERRIS: Well one weekend, it probably was in April 1965, I got a call from
Steve Pollak. At this point he was the Deputy General Counsel of the Office
of Equal Opportunity. He said to me that Sargent Shriver was in the process
of setting up a national program of legal services for the poor, and the two
people that he had working with him to do that, Edgar and Jean CamperCahn, had been setting it up, and they had been the great driving force of this,
they had quit. They’d had some kind of a dispute with Sargent Shriver, and
they had simply quit. He was trying to set up a national meeting, I believe
for June, it might have been July, of all kinds of major political figures, legal
figures, with later-Justice Powell involved, he was the President of the
American Bar Association at the time, and so this was in cooperation with
the ABA.
Well, Steve called me undoubtedly because he thought I knew a lot
about poverty and community organizing. But anyway, I cared about these
– -109-
issues, and he wanted simply to find out whether I would run this program.
Well, I told him – this was on a Friday, I believe, or it may have been a
Saturday – that I would work on it over the weekend. There were about two
months to get this thing done. But I said that Sargent Shriver had personally
to go to Archibald Cox on Monday to ask him that I could do this and I could
return to the Solicitor General’s Office. The Solicitor General’s Office isn’t
doing much at this time. All the briefing is finished for the term. All the
arguments were finished for the term. There’s some work, but it’s the low
point of the year. Not even the new briefs for the new term were coming in.
So I thought it was perfectly reasonable, and if this was so important to the
Administration, that that would work. I worked that weekend. Monday
came. I’m told that Shriver did go to Archibald Cox and that Archibald Cox
said no. I’ve often wondered why he said no. I hadn’t had any real run-ins
with him during my time in the office. I always wondered whether that
session in which he was sitting outside of Robert Kennedy’s office for half
an hour, 45 minutes while I was talking to Kennedy [about Kennedy’s
Supreme Court argument] had really bothered him. In any event, he said no.
So then of course the question was, was I going to go back to the Solicitor
General’s Office, and I thought about it, and I decided that this work was too
important to leave it. In retrospect, it was certainly too important to leave it.
I didn’t of course know that this was going to grow into the size program that
now exists in the country.
– -110-
I got a guy from Georgetown Law School to help me, and the two
of us put together this program, and it was a terrific program. We got a
person that you may have heard of (I’m joking), Pat Wald. There were really
no good documents on legal services for the poor in existence at that time.
We went to Pat Wald, I think she had four or five children, and asked her – I
don’t know why we thought she was capable of doing this, in a sense nobody
was capable of doing it – whether she could put together a small book on
legal services for the poor, and in a period of three or four weeks, she wrote a
book on legal services for the poor. So I’m not at all surprised the amazing
things she has done since, because that was probably more amazing than
most of the things she’s done since.
MR. STEINBACH: That sounds great. Let’s defer the whole post-DOJ activities that you’re
engaged in until next time. Any going-away conversation with Archibald
MR. TERRIS: No. Never even saw him. I believe I saw Archibald Cox only once again in
my life after that, and that was when [Ken] Gormley’s book about him came
out. That’s years later.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s back you up then to your Solicitor General’s career. It’s my
understanding, and I think this is from your resume, that you were involved
in maybe seventy Supreme Court briefs, give or take, writing and or
MR. TERRIS: All reviewing. The only brief that I can remember the Solicitor General’s
Office ever produced by itself – there may have been more, but I certainly
– -111-
never heard of them – was Archibald Cox’s own version of that
reapportionment brief, and he wrote it himself. In fact, I have the page proof
here, and on the front of it, it basically says, “Bruce, here’s the brief; don’t
touch it.” Short form of exactly what he said.
MR. STEINBACH: At least you could go home early that day.
MR. TERRIS: [Laughter]. And I didn’t touch it. I wasn’t that dumb.
MR. STEINBACH: But you did significant editing on other briefs that would come up from
MR. TERRIS: Of course. That was my job.
MR. STEINBACH: Dozens over the course of your career. And I also understand that you
argued, I think, sixteen times to the Supreme Court directly yourself while
you were in the SG’s Office.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember your first Supreme Court argument?
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember being scared or anything about your first Supreme Court
MR. TERRIS: It’s a funny thing. In fact I just said something to a colleague, I think it was
this morning actually. I was in synagogue and the guy who’s frequently
there asked me whether I wanted to have this particular participation in the
service. I had told him that I never wanted to have it, it’s a fairly minor thing
that you have to do, and I had told him no, I don’t want to, it makes me
nervous to do it because I have such a poor command of Hebrew. I said to
– -112-
him this morning, you know I don’t get nervous when I argue in the Supreme
Court, but if you ask me to say something in Hebrew in synagogue, I’m not
going to do it.
MR. STEINBACH: Now you can’t say that you never got nervous from the very beginning, or
did you find this a place where you were at ease?
MR. TERRIS: You get nervous in a sense. I’m not saying I’m not thinking about it. Of
course, I’d be crazy if I said that. But when you’re finished with the first two
sentences in the Supreme Court, you’re not really nervous anymore. You’re
so focused on what you’re doing that you’re really not nervous. I think that’s
the way baseball players playing in the World Series feel. That’s their job.
Once they’re into it, they can’t think of anything else. And I think that’s the
way I felt in the Supreme Court. And of course I had a great advantage. I
had seen a lot of Supreme Court arguments before I ever got up because I
was in the Solicitor General’s Office and I saw all these very good people
arguing in the Supreme Court. I had a tremendous advantage.
MR. STEINBACH: But like a baseball player, there’s a lot of practice before the game.
MR. TERRIS: We didn’t have moot courts.
MR. STEINBACH: You did not have moot courts?
MR. TERRIS: I hate moot courts. You ask if I’m nervous, I’m nervous at a moot court. But
you get to the Supreme Court, you have got too much to think about.
MR. STEINBACH: Was that a standard, I guess, non-practice in the SG’s Office, to never have
– -113-
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember the people that were in the Solicitor General’s Office
having a rehearsal. I can remember, strangely enough, a rehearsal for Abe
Chayes, a professor at Harvard Law School, who later became the top lawyer
at the State Department, he was making an argument, and we had a moot
court for him. But I don’t remember any moot court when I was in the
Solicitor General’s Office, for me or anybody else [in the Office]. I don’t
know if that’s smart or not. I’m pretty sure of it.
MR. STEINBACH: So like any lawyer representing any client, you’ll have your own personal
views that sometimes aren’t the same as your client’s. Do you remember any
instances where you argued in front of the Supreme Court and thought to
yourself, “I’m wrong,” or “I think we’re on the wrong side”?
MR. TERRIS: Let me tell you something. That almost never happens. Not to Bruce Terris,
not to anybody. If you can’t get yourself into believing in your argument –
now, it depends on how you phrase it. If you phrase it, “When you sit down,
Bruce Terris, and when you decide how you would decide this as a judge,”
express it that way, I might say “I will come out against the position I’m in,”
but that’s not the sequence. The sequence is, you get the case, you get the
brief, you edit the brief, you then study the cases [cited in the brief] in
preparation, you draft the argument. You really never ask that question, how
would I decide the case if I were completely separate from representing this
client. So in my whole history of 50-odd years of being a lawyer, I don’t
think I can say to you that that’s ever occurred.
MR. STEINBACH: So as an advocate, you become a believer.
– -114-
MR. TERRIS: It doesn’t mean what you would do if somebody the next day said you are
now appointed as a judge, if I got that same case, now I might look at it
completely differently, but as an advocate, I never really ask that question.
MR. STEINBACH: I ask that because in several instances – and it’s not just you, but the SG’s
Office at the time in the Kennedy years, seemed to be pushing a certain
position, and the Warren Court takes that much further, much more liberally,
much broader. That must have been an interesting dynamic for the
government to be asking for “x,” and the Supreme Court giving you “x plus.”
MR. TERRIS: That’s an interesting illustration that you just said. Of course that happened,
I wouldn’t say much further, but somewhat further, in the reapportionment
cases. The interesting thing is that when the Solicitor General’s Office – and
I’m obviously talking about my stay there – when the Solicitor General’s
Office formulates its position, it’s doing several things at the same time. It’s
trying to predict the best argument it can make to get all or most of what the
administration wants, what the government wants. So it’s trying to predict
what’s going to be a persuasive argument, what can win. It’s also separate
from that, trying to decide what the administration’s position ought to be.
Forget about whether you’re going to win or lose, what’s our position? And
the way the Solicitor General’s Office operated, at least at that time, was
truly an attempt to argue what is good for the country. And you’re also
arguing the administration’s position. At times the Solicitor General’s Office
might say, that isn’t maybe the best for the country. When I was there,
probably half of those Communist cases, most of the people in the Office
– -115-
would have hoped they were going to come out the other way. So it’s a very
tricky on how you formulate positions.
At Harvard Law School when I was there, the ideology was the majesty of
the law. There’s the law. It’s not just how you use the law for your political
purposes, there’s such a thing as “the law.” At Yale, it was a place where, at
least many of the professors were using the law for what they regarding as
good purposes. A lot of people in the Solicitor General’s Office (they
weren’t all from Harvard) had that kind of majesty of the law ideology.
There is “the law” that we have to be faithful to. We don’t just do good and
use the law to do good. So that too goes back to your thing about what we
would argue and then sometimes the Warren Court would go beyond us
because, in effect, our own sort of inner feelings about the law limited how
far we were comfortable in arguing.
MR. STEINBACH: So as someone who has argued – at least, well even then in the SG’s Office,
sixteen times and then later on before the Supreme Court and in other courts
– you have lawyers in your office now, or maybe you get invited to the SG’s
Office and you’re meeting with people who have never done it: tell them
how to be a good appellate lawyer.
MR. TERRIS: Hah. Well the one thing I tell them is you’ve got to attempt to tell a story.
That’s true of brief-writing too. You’ve got to tell a story. What I say to
people is, you basically want to tell a story in which there are no exits. Once
you start with me, you’re going to end up with me, and the exits from the
path that I’m going to tell, the story I’m going to tell, I’m going to have to
– -116-
cut off those exits, so that there are no exits. You start with me, you’ve got
to end up with me. So that’s a big part, I think, of how you persuade people
in a court. In terms of oral argument, you’ve got to obviously simplify. I
have a trait that I think is good for an oral advocate. My wife says, if she
says “x,” I’m going to say “maybe not quite x,” so that my immediate
reaction is kind of a caveat, a response. That’s maybe bad at home
[laughter], but it’s good in a courtroom. In other words, when I’m asked
something or a judge says something, my mind operates in response very,
very quickly, very quickly translating it into how it fits into my story. And I
think that’s a trait that’s a very valuable one. I don’t know how much of it
can be taught and how much of it is innate. At least those are a couple of
things that I tell people.
MR. STEINBACH: How do you deal with a hot bench where you utter a sentence and you get a
thousand questions?
MR. TERRIS: They’re all hot now. If you’re in an appellate court, where you have three
people or more, they’re all hot. When I first started arguing, it was not nearly
as hot, even the Supreme Court wasn’t nearly the way it is now. There’s no
argument today in the Supreme Court. In many ways, you don’t get anything
out of your mouth. You’re asked questions or get speeches from them, and
then you have to react to their speeches. And that’s true of all the appellate
courts that I’ve been in for years now. District court is a little different
because one guy can’t think of so many questions probably one after the
other, bam, bam, bam. But appellate courts, you answer questions.
– -117-
MR. STEINBACH: If you had the power to tell the Supreme Court how to behave, should they
go back to the old days and let the lawyers talk more, or is what they do now
MR. TERRIS: That’s an awfully good question. I think they should do a little more of the
way it used to be. I don’t think it’s appropriate to essentially use the
argument time not to deal with the lawyer but to deal with their compatriots.
What they’re really doing is talking not to the lawyer but to the guy down at
the end of the bench. They’ve got time to do that. They have meetings to do
that. I think one of the problems judges generally, and Supreme Court
Justices in particular have, they have too much confidence that they know the
case. They don’t know the case the way the lawyer knows the case. They
never do, even though they are smart, and certainly there are many very, very
smart Justices and judges, but they don’t [know the case]. They almost never
[let the lawyers argue. This is particularly bad when they do not let] good
advocates [argue] – and most of the lawyers in the Supreme Court are
awfully good advocates, there are not a lot of poor advocates in the Supreme
Court, especially these days because now for the first time [there is] a
professional bar of Supreme Court advocates that did not exist before. So I
think that’s a mistake. They should ask real questions, if it’s unclear what
the person is saying, definitely ask the question, but I think to some extent
they want to hear themselves talk.
– -118-
MR. STEINBACH: When you argued in front of the Supreme Court during your SG days, do
you remember any adversaries, any lawyers who argued against you in the
Supreme Court who really impressed you?
MR. TERRIS: Not really. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t people that were good
advocates on the other side when I argued, but I really can’t remember. For
the most part I can’t remember who they were at all. The one I do remember
is in the Communist cases, a guy by the name of [Leonard] Boudin, who
happens to be the father of the judge. I’m amazed that guy ever became a
MR. STEINBACH: First Circuit.
MR. TERRIS: Right. How he [Michael Boudin] ever became a judge after that, given what
his father’s position was. I think it’s a great thing for this country.
MR. STEINBACH: Let me broaden the question. You’ve talked a bit about Archibald Cox’s
ability as an oral advocate. Any others, not that you were necessary against
them, any other people you saw argue that you thought were tremendously
MR. TERRIS: The top people in the Solicitor General’s Office were awfully good. Ralph
Spitzer was there, he was never the First or Second Assistant. He became a
law professor at Pennsylvania later. I can remember an argument that he
made in a tax case that involved an enormous among of money, and on the
other side was Erwin Griswold, Dean of Harvard Law School. Spritzer
wiped him out. It was terrible. I remember at the time, it doesn’t sound like
an enormous amount of money anymore, but I remember we were told that
– -119-
Griswold had been paid $100,000 for this argument, and it was pitiful in
comparison. Spitzer was just so much better. But there were other people
too, Philip Elman and Oscar Davis. There were a lot of people in the
Solicitor General’s Office who were really awfully good.
MR. STEINBACH: I noticed in the briefs that you worked on Boudin’s name, but I also noticed
Thomas Emerson, he was on the other side of a case that you were involved
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember.
MR. STEINBACH: I think he was connected with Yale Law School.
MR. TERRIS: It sounds rights.
MR. STEINBACH: We have previously talked about, or I’ve sent you, several Supreme Court
cases that you worked on, and I just wondered about any recollections you
might have. Several of them have to do with internal security issues.
MR. TERRIS: As I said, when it came time to assigning those cases, I think the powers that
be said to themselves – first of all, he is very junior, and so he’s willing to
accept these cases and the rest of us don’t want to be tainted with this stuff,
so that’s how I ended up with them. I handled a couple of cases [involving]
the House Un-American Activities Committee. I once joked to people, there
was a time that I thought I had lost more federal statutes being held
unconstitutional than anybody in American history, because there were two
minor provisions in the Immigration and Naturalization Act that I lost. Up
until recently it was very unusual for federal statues to be held
unconstitutional. About fifteen years ago, I noticed that in one week there
– -120-
were three federal statutes held unconstitutional, so I can’t claim this great
distinction anymore, if it ever was true. It may not have been. But I’m sure I
was given those cases because there wasn’t a lot of clamor for other people to
argue them.
MR. STEINBACH: In the internal security cases, the blockbuster, at least it seems to me, a case
argued by Rankin at the very end of the Eisenhower years, the Communist
Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board [367 U.S. 1 (1961)]. You’re on
the brief, and this is a 5-4 decision written by Frankfurter that required the
Communist party to register. What do you remember about that?
MR. TERRIS: Gee, I’ve forgotten that there was actually a case on that side that was won in
the Supreme Court. I lost all my cases 5 to 4. I don’t really remember about
the Smith Act case. I can remember, and you might be interested in this, I
remember, one of the cases involving the House Un-American Activities
Committee, that Frankfurter was so irritated with my argument that he took
his chair and swiveled it. The wall of the Supreme Court is very close to the
back of the Justices, so he swiveled his chair and he was facing the back
wall. His face must have been six inches or a foot away from the wall. He
was so irritated about the argument I was making. Of course what I was
doing, I was looking for a fifth vote. I wasn’t looking for his vote. I knew
where his vote was. I had that vote, and I was looking for a fifth. Of course I
didn’t get a fifth. There was no chance that I was going to get one of the
five, and that may also have been why I got the assignment. No one in the
world believed that the case is going to come out anything other than 5 to 4.
– -121-
MR. STEINBACH: That sounds familiar from nowadays. When you went up there – let’s
generalize about all sixteen of your cases at once. Could you count the noses
even before you started most of the time?
MR. TERRIS: Well in those kinds of cases you could. I can’t remember now some of the
other cases that I argued that were a little less politically affected, so there
may have been others. There were after all a few cases that I won, so they
may be the ones that you couldn’t do the count before you went up there.
Like the two Immigration and Naturalization Act statutes, I think I pretty
well knew how they were coming out, and most of the Communist cases the
same thing is true.
MR. STEINBACH: One of the immigration cases – would Schneider v. Rusk [377 U.S. 163
(1964)] be one of those cases? The issue was whether the government can
take away someone’s citizenship who returns to the country of their birth for
a period of time and then comes back to the United States. Does that sound
MR. TERRIS: I think you had to do something more there, like vote or something. I think
it’s usually tied to doing something. I think one of the cases may have
involved serving in a foreign army, and the other one maybe voting.
MR. STEINBACH: And you argued that it was rational for Congress to have distinguished
between [native-born] citizens and others who went back to their home
country, and you lost five to four.
MR. TERRIS: Correct [laughter].
– -122-
MR. STEINBACH: The New York Times said in an article I noticed about the case that more
than 40,000 citizenships had been taken away under that law before the
Supreme Court struck it down.*
Any other recollections about that particular
MR. TERRIS: No. I’ve blotted them out, given the result [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Then you have another immigration and naturalization case before the
Supreme Court. Anything to add?
MR. STEINBACH: And there were a couple where people testified in front of Congress or
refused to testify.
MR. TERRIS: House Un-American Activities Committee. Those were the cases that
[Leonard Boudin] argued. In fact I believe there were five cases in a row in
the Supreme Court, and I argued two of them and other people argued the
others. Not in the Solicitor General’s Office; other people.
MR. STEINBACH: It looked like for various reasons the Supreme Court figured out a way each
time to rule against Congress.
MR. TERRIS: Exactly.
MR. STEINBACH: How about any other Supreme Court decisions that you remember?
Obviously, setting aside reapportionment.
MR. TERRIS: I really don’t remember my other ones. A little bit strange I guess, but I

Lewis, Anthony. “High Court Rules the Naturalized May Live Abroad.” New York Times,
May 19, 1964.
– -123-
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s talk about the Court in general, the Warren Court. There’s somewhat
of a turnover while you were in the SG’s Office, but a pretty core group
remains. Black and Frankfurter leave and get replaced later on, but let’s start
with the large question about your reflections on the Warren Court, from
your personal perspective.
MR. TERRIS: As you would expect, it’s kind of a mixed bag. The Justice I admired the
most, and still do, from that Court is Justice Harlan. The reason I admired
him the most was because I believe that he frequently voted against his
political views, and to me, that’s really one of the most important things that
a great Justice should do. It isn’t a place to be simply translating what you
would do in Congress into a legal arena, and I think most of the Justices
wouldn’t have voted any differently if they had been sitting in Congress than
as they were on the Supreme Court. He certainly was also very intelligent,
and his demeanor was wonderful on the Court. He did not act like he was
superior to the people who were arguing in front of him.
Earl Warren was, I think it’s fair to say, not smart enough to be the
Chief Justice of the United States. I probably agreed with most of his
political views. On the other hand, Brown v. Board of Education and getting
that done as a unanimous decision was very impressive. Of course that’s
probably where his skills most played out, as a very good politician, and
getting that decision out that way probably took the skills of a politician more
than the skills of being a great legal scholar.
I was never enormously impressed with Tom Clark. Justice Black
– -124-
I thought was a very smart man, a good Justice. Douglas was also a very
smart man but not a very good Justice.
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think he really took it with the seriousness that the job demands, and
that the public has a right to expect, to do the research that’s needed. I had a
case long after this, in which I think I lost 5-4 too, which I represented the
plaintiff, Cesar Chavez, and every bit of Douglas’s background would tell
you that he would have voted for me almost knee-jerk. He didn’t. I lost five
to four. I had the feeling he wasn’t even paying attention, even to figure out
where his political views were.
MR. STEINBACH: It sounds like you tussled with Justice Frankfurter from time to time.
MR. TERRIS: And Frankfurter, of course, was a very smart man. Very smart. Tough to
deal with at oral argument. He didn’t give really any ground. And I thought
Justice Stewart was a very good Justice, pretty smart, pretty fair. I don’t
know who I missed.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have any interaction while you were in the Justice Department with
Byron White?
MR. STEINBACH: So he went from the DOJ to the Supreme Court without you knowing him
personally. Did you know any of the Justices personally or outside of
professional work?
– -125-
MR. STEINBACH: What was your sense – this would have been the very tail end of your SG
days – of Justice White or Justice Goldberg?
MR. TERRIS: I’m not sure I ever argued in front of Goldberg. I think I didn’t. I knew
Justice Goldberg because he was involved, this was a later time, on setting up
the Center for Law and Social Policy, which I and Charlie Halpern set up, so
I knew him. Justice White certainly wasn’t one of the great Justices, but he
was a solid man.
MR. STEINBACH: So now it’s just obvious looking back how profoundly significant the
Warren Court was in American legal history. Was that clear at the time, or
was it just one case after another they decided?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was fairly clear. It was dealing after all with civil rights, really very
basic issues of civil rights. There were of course other issues,
reapportionment is awfully important. It’s hard to figure what would have
happened today if we hadn’t done something about reapportionment at that
time. Certainly there were other issues, but I think the civil rights issues by
themselves are critical. Theoretically, you can imagine the Johnson civil
rights laws being held unconstitutional. If you imagine that for a moment,
now it seems like that’s so impossible. It was possible.
MR. STEINBACH: In the meantime there’s all these rights for criminal defendants coming
down the chute, much more expansive interpretation of the First Amendment
for the press. . . .
MR. TERRIS: That’s right. They probably weren’t as important as the others, but they were
very, very important.
– -126-
MR. STEINBACH: When we pick up next time, you will have left the Justice Department and
be on to the next phase of your career. Look back on joining the Justice
Department and the eight years you spent there. Reflections on your public
service career up to that point?
MR. TERRIS: It was very, very rewarding. I had a great feeling about the things that I did
in terms of how I made a contribution. It was fun. I don’t know if I said this
to you before, but I’ve said it to a lot of people: I can never remember in my
entire career going to the office that I didn’t look forward to it. I know that’s
just fantastic, but it is true, and it’s certainly was true of that period. I
learned an awful lot about law. I learned an awful lot about how to think and
act and what have you. I’m not sure whether I have said this to you or not:
the start of it really though is Harvard Law School because Harvard Law
School taught me how to think. I had gone to Harvard College, and you say,
did they teach you how to think? The answer is no. They would ask a
question and I would give them back everything I knew. They would ask,
what’s the cause of the Civil War? If you asked me that on an exam, I would
write furiously for an hour, and everything would come out. Suddenly at
Harvard Law School – and I’m an enormous believer in this – they used the
Socratic method, in which they never told me. They never told me anything.
What’s the law? Tell me the law, and I’ll write it down. I had to think it
through. That was an enormous experience, and then the years after that
associated with these tremendous people in the Solicitor General’s Office, it
was just really wonderful.
– -127-
MR. STEINBACH: Would I be right in concluding that when you look back over your Justice
years, by far your proudest accomplishment is the reapportionment cases?
MR. TERRIS: That’s right in the sense – that’s the biggest thing, the thing that somebody
wrote a book about recently. But everything else I did was wonderful too.
The other briefs I handled, briefs on the merits in the Supreme Court, almost
all of them had some considerable importance, maybe not as important as
reapportionment, but they were intellectually challenging. So even if
something wasn’t the most important thing in the world, it was a challenge to
do it right.
MR. STEINBACH: Good. Well we have plenty more to cover, starting with the War on Poverty
when we next meet. Bruce, thank you very much, and we’ll reconvene
– -128-
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Monday,
December 22, 2014. This is the fourth interview.
MR. STEINBACH: Good morning, Bruce. How are you?
MR. TERRIS: Good morning. I’m fine, thanks.
MR. STEINBACH: We had last time taken you through your career up to the point of your years
in the Solicitor General’s Office and the Department of Justice, and when we
pick up today, you’re on the verge of leaving there to other ventures. But I
want to start with what we covered just briefly last time. While you were
still in the SG’s Office, you participated, or were asked to participate, in a
conference that involved Sargent Shriver in the new Office of Economic
Opportunity that became known as the National Conference on Law and
Poverty, of which you served as the co-chairman. So if you could just
remind us again how that opportunity became available to you, and then
we’ll take it from there.
MR. TERRIS: I guess I should say that if I’d been asked the day before I started work on
that conference how I was going to spend the rest of my life, I probably
would have said in the Solicitor General’s Office. After all, it’s hard to beat
that as a legal job, and so I think it’s very possible that that’s what would
have happened. But totally out of the blue, I believe it was on a Friday,
– -129-
Steve Pollak, whom I had worked with in the Solicitor General’s Office, I
believe his title was the Deputy General Counsel of the Office of Economic
Opportunity, and he told me that they were going to have a conference
starting a legal services program for the poor. I didn’t know that, I don’t
think it probably was even public knowledge at that point, and the people that
were running the conference, the two Cahns, Edgar and Jean, who had really
done wonderful work on just opening up this whole area, had had some kind
of a fight with Sargent Shriver, and they quit. They were going to set up this
conference for Sargent Shriver at the Office of Economic Opportunity, and
something had happened, and they were gone. There was nobody to set up
this conference. I never knew, and still don’t know, what the fight was
about. But Steve said to me, “Would you be willing to run this conference?”
I said to him that I would be willing to run it, but that I didn’t want to leave
the Solicitor General’s Office. This was not a permanent job, the conference
was going to take place in two or three months, and so I wanted to make sure
that Sargent Shriver was personally going to talk to Archibald Cox to grease
the wheels so that I wasn’t going to have to leave the Solicitor General’s
MR. STEINBACH: So then what happened?
MR. TERRIS: Well, I worked that weekend. We had very little time to set up this
conference. When I say, “we,” I was the only person that weekend. On
Monday I was later told that Sargent Shriver went to Archibald Cox, and
Archibald Cox said “no.”
– -130-
MR. STEINBACH: “No” that you could not remain at the SG’s Office and still work on this
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: And then you had a choice to make?
MR. TERRIS: I had a choice.
MR. STEINBACH: And how did you make the decision to leave the Solicitor General’s Office?
MR. TERRIS: It was a very hard choice, but I thought the subject of the conference and
what it was intended to do was of such enormous importance, really for the
country, it was something that was changing the whole structure of how we
deal with poor people and their relationship to the law, that I really couldn’t
say no to it. Somehow I probably thought there was a possibility that if this
program got started that I might be the one to run it, but I had no promise for
that, and in fact I didn’t even ask for a promise.
MR. STEINBACH: After this conversation and after that weekend, how much more time did you
spend at the SG’s Office before you transitioned to the conference?
MR. TERRIS: Not one minute.
MR. STEINBACH: So that very same week, you started to work full time? Was that a federal
government position?
MR. STEINBACH: So the conference was part of the OEO?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: And employed you as an OEO official?
– -131-
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember now the technicalities of it, but I would think that was it. I
was certainly a federal government employee, and I’m sure I was getting the
same grade that I had been in the Solicitor General’s Office, but I can’t
remember those kinds of details.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay, we’re in the middle of 1965, we’re at the beginning of the Great
Society’s War on Poverty. Describe that effort and the sort of excitement it
generated when it was first announced by President Johnson.
MR. TERRIS: I think people who cared about the country’s problems involving poor people
thought this was a marvelous idea and that the federal government would
take this seriously in a coordinated way – not just here’s a program here and
there’s another program over there, but a coordinated program. I mean
things like the Job Corps to train large numbers of poor youth, many of them
minorities, so they could get jobs. Most of them were unemployed. I mean
just marvelous ideas that were being tried out. Head Start for young
children. It was really I think just a fantastic set of ideas that they were
working on, and this was going to be a major part of it.
It was particularly interesting to me because I was doing the same kind
of work on the street here in Washington at the time, and that’s undoubtedly
why Steve Pollak asked me to do this work – that he thought I knew
something about the problems of poor people, more than most people did, so
I think that’s why I was asked.
MR. STEINBACH: Which we’ll come back to in a few minutes. The conference is run by the
Office of Economic Opportunity which is a new government agency, headed
– -132-
by Sargent Shriver. Remember the creation of that and what its mission was
perceived to be?
MR. TERRIS: It was to start carrying out these kinds of ideas that the President had, the Job
Corps, promoting Head Start, and there were a lot of others that now have
largely bitten the dust, and I can’t remember the details of – but essentially a
coordinated program to deal with all the major problems of the poor.
MR. STEINBACH: Had you had any interactions previously with Sargent Shriver personally?
MR. TERRIS: Never.
MR. STEINBACH: Back when he was running the Peace Corps, no involvement?
MR. TERRIS: No. And I didn’t have any when I had this job either. I don’t think I ever
saw him. I might have had one meeting with him.
MR. STEINBACH: So your particular focus at this conference I gather had to do with legal
services for the poor?
MR. TERRIS: That’s exclusively what it involved.
MR. STEINBACH: Which was one aspect of OEO’s focus on the War on Poverty?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Explain that to us. What’s the thinking behind providing additional or new
legal services to the poor? How does that get at the root problems of society
perceived at the time?
MR. TERRIS: Everybody potentially has legal problems, and the difference, of course, is
people with money can hire a lawyer, and poor people can’t. But the truth is
poor people have far more legal problems than the average middle class
person has. The poor person frequently runs into housing problems, getting
– -133-
evicted or getting increases of rent, or the apartment they’re renting isn’t up
to code. All kinds of things like that. Then they have consumer problems,
they’re often taken advantage of, so that’s a frequent kind of problem. So
poor people have frequently, unfortunately, numerous legal problems. The
thought is that if you don’t deal with those problems – you may improve their
lot by getting their teenager a job or their young adult a job – but many of the
other problems are going to continue to exist, and a lawyer can be very useful
on that.
MR. STEINBACH: When this conference is in the planning stages, at that point is there any
federal coordinated effort to provide legal services to the poor already in
MR. TERRIS: I don’t believe there were any. I should say that it’s important that this was
not just OEO’s proposal, it was also the American Bar Association’s. It was
a very close ally and participant in this, and the president of the American
Bar Association at that time happened to be Lewis Powell, so he was quite
heavily involved in it. He spoke at the conference, and the Bar Association
throughout the country was a very important ally because they, of course,
have local bar associations everywhere, in the same cities and states where
you want to put legal service programs. OEO didn’t have any offices all over
the country, but the Bar Association had entities affiliated with it
– -134-
MR. STEINBACH: Can you remember how many weeks you had between the time you left the
SG’s Office and the conference occurred, and what you did during those
MR. TERRIS: I mostly went crazy, but I think it was two or three months. I was very lucky
to get two people to work with me. One was Jack Murphy who was a young
professor at Georgetown Law School. I don’t remember how I happened to
get him, but he basically did the administrative things. I basically put the
program together. I don’t want to minimize though the administrative and
make it sound like I did the important things and he did the unimportant
things. Putting together a conference with hundreds of people coming from
all over the country in a couple of months is an enormous undertaking, and
he did that. The other person who was equally important was somebody who
would be well known to everybody, and that was Patricia Wald. I don’t
know how we happened to decide that she should be the one that would write
our little book on legal services for the poor, which she did (even though I
think she had four children). In a few weeks, she put together the only book
that I think existed at that time on legal services for the poor. She went into
these different areas, housing, consumer, etc., and somehow she produced
this document that could be given to every one of the people that came to the
conference and could tell people who really had no idea what we were even
talking about, would have something in their hand that told them what we
were talking about.
MR. STEINBACH: Had you had any previous contact with later-Judge Wald?
– -135-
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t before. I did afterward, and we’ll probably talk about that in some of
the other episodes in my career.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about the conference itself. How long was it? How many people
attended? What happened all day long?
MR. TERRIS: It was in this marvelous auditorium over at the State Department, which is a
beautiful auditorium. It had several hundred people. They were lawyers
from everywhere. Many bar association officials in different parts of the
country. There were legal services personnel in existing programs. There
were legal services at a very low level in comparison to the need that existed
in various parts of the country. Now I’ve got a block on what the name of
that organization is, but it was also affiliated with the American Bar
Association and local bar associations, and their people came. We invited
them to come to the conference because they were obviously people who had
an interest in this field. I think it lasted two days. It might have lasted three,
but I think it was either two or three. Lewis Powell spoke, and Sargent
Shriver spoke, and academics from different parts of the country that we
recruited and had the beginnings of knowledge. There weren’t people with a
lot of knowledge, but they had the beginnings of knowledge, and so they laid
out the field in rather a rudimentary way. In comparison to today people
would regard it as very rudimentary. But that’s the best that could be done
– -136-
MR. STEINBACH: I guess this conference is credited to leading to the formation ultimately of
the Legal Services Corporation. Do you agree with that conclusion? How
did the conference affect that?
MR. TERRIS: There’s no question, it went directly to it, because right afterwards, when the
conference ended, Sargent Shriver put people to work to start putting
together a legal services program for the country. It [didn’t start] somewhere
else. It started in the Office of Economic Opportunity.
MR. STEINBACH: So the conference issued I guess recommendations or findings. Do you
MR. TERRIS: I think it maybe did some, but mostly that isn’t what it did. It was intended
basically to get the interest of important people all across the country so that
people could come back to them and say, okay, now we’ve got some money,
how are we going to do this in Des Moines?
MR. STEINBACH: So Sargent Shriver and the OEO after the conference participate in drafting
legislation that ultimately becomes the Legal Services Corporation. Are you
involved in that effort at all?
MR. TERRIS: I was involved for a short period of time, a few months, and I didn’t get the
job of running the program. Once more a more senior person got the job
[laughter], so after working there for a while and when the new people came
in, I left.
MR. STEINBACH: So you had maybe intended after the conference to stay on in this area, but
then ended up – is the next step in your career the National Crime
– -137-
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Before we get there, let’s go back to why maybe Steve Pollak called you in
the first place, and you’ve mentioned this several times previously. Even
back when you were in the SG’s Office as a government attorney, in your
private capacity you were involved significantly as, for a lack of a better
term, a community organizer in the Washington, D.C. area. What got you
interested in that sort of participation in the local community?
MR. TERRIS: When I came to Washington, my fiancé was a social worker in a settlement
house down on I believe 9th and Q, but I may be a block off. It may have
been 8th and Q when I think about it. I can remember that they wanted to set
up a credit union, and I being a lawyer, somebody thought that I ought to be
able to do that, so I did. That led over the next couple of years to doing more
things and ending up setting up a block club, setting up a non-profit housing
corporation, setting up programs for tutoring children. A few years later, that
didn’t happen the first couple of years, we set up medical services on
Saturdays for people to come in, doctors and nurses and other medical
professionals to come in to provide free medical services, a women’s club, a
men’s club. We set up a small community center where men could pitch
horseshoes and they had a pool table. I got Robert Kennedy to come down
and dedicate it. So we did a whole variety of things over [many years].
MR. STEINBACH: I think what you’re referring to is what was called the 1500 Block Club?
MR. TERRIS: That’s the block club. The housing corporation was called Better Homes,
Incorporated, and that led to the Housing Development Corporation.
– -138-
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s focus on the 1500 Block Club first, which when I heard you describing
just now and when I read about it previously reminds me almost of 50, 60
years earlier of Jane Addams and the settlement houses at the turn of the
century. So what’s going on with the Block Club? What’s its objective, and
what do you do?
MR. TERRIS: When my fiancé left that settlement house in a couple of years she’d become
my wife, and we continued to work in that area without being paid to do it.
And then another fellow by the name of James Gibbons and his wife
Kathleen were the other two key people. He was the head of an insurance
company in town. Not the usual head of an insurance company. So what we
did is, we knocked on doors. We got the men in the neighborhood to form a
block club, and then we bought a building so they could play pool in the
building. We bought houses and rehabilitated them ourselves. We set up
tutoring in the block, and this program was run by a young woman named
Jane Hardin. It was standard community organization, and we spent a lot of
time doing it. We formed a Women’s Club, and then the women started
baking things and they sold them in various places in Washington to get
money for things that the Women’s Club wanted to do.
MR. STEINBACH: And for you this is night time and weekend work?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: 1500 Block, is that referring to a particular street in town?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was 8th Street, I’m trying to think about that.
MR. STEINBACH: In Northwest?
– -139-
MR. STEINBACH: You separately had mentioned the Better Homes organization of which you
were one of the founders. Tell us the concept behind that and what you did.
MR. TERRIS: The concept was, at the start we would go and buy a building, we’d get
people to donate money to buy a building.
MR. STEINBACH: Who’s “we?”
MR. TERRIS: Jim Gibbons and myself. And then on weekends and in the evenings we
would work to fix them up with the people who lived in them and other
people in the neighborhood. So in other words, I’m certainly not one of the
great carpenters of our time, to put it mildly, but there were other people in
the neighborhood who knew some things, and when we had some really
skilled things to be done like electricity, we would hire people. So we
bought a few buildings in that block and fixed them up. Then we graduated
from that into going to the federal government, which had a program under
which they would loan money for this purpose, and that was the Housing
Development Corporation, which we set up. And so that was basically our
concept, and since that time, much bigger enterprises have been formed in
lots of places in the country.
MR. STEINBACH: So your prototype, the Better Homes model, obtained funding, I gather, from
the Federal Housing Act?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: And became sort of a model that was replicated nationwide?
– -140-
MR. TERRIS: I’m sure if we hadn’t existed the model would have still occurred. People
were thinking of doing this kind of thing, certainly independent of us, and it
was I think a fairly obvious thing to do, but we were certainly one of the
MR. STEINBACH: Is this rehabilitation of certain buildings, is that the same general
geographical area as your other work?
MR. TERRIS: It was on the same block.
MR. STEINBACH: In Northwest, in the central city of Washington?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: And you had also worked in establishing a credit union for the center city in
MR. TERRIS: That was the first thing that we did, that I did really, because that was before
I started working with Jim Gibbons. When my wife, then-fiancée, was
working at the settlement house.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about that idea and concept.
MR. TERRIS: All over the country, people have set up credit unions to help poor people.
They work pretty much the way other credit unions do except for of course if
you’re aiming at poor people, then you’ve got to sell it with them and work
with them both to use it and to use it responsibly. But I basically wasn’t the
person who did the work on the credit union. I started it. In other words, the
people that wanted a credit union weren’t lawyers and they thought that I had
some expert ability to fill out the papers, file them, figure out what the right
structure was, that kind of thing.
– -141-
MR. STEINBACH: So all these separate voluntary activities, while at the same time you were
arguing in the Supreme Court for the SG’s Office, all of that is what brought
you to the attention of the OEO personnel who asked you to run the
Conference on Law and Poverty that focused on legal services.
MR. TERRIS: I think that’s right. And it also had to do, I suspect, although he never said
that, that it was why Robert Kennedy ended up having a good friendship with
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about the time that you invited Bobby Kennedy to the dedication of
one of these Washington efforts that you were involved in.
MR. TERRIS: This was right at the time, it became clear later that it was the time, that he
was thinking about running for the Senate. I went to his office. He had said
at an earlier meeting with a bunch of young lawyers, including me, if you
have something you need to talk to me about, come and see me, so I said to
myself, I’m going to go and see him. So I went to see him to ask whether he
would come and dedicate this center. I explained to him what we were
doing, the things I just said to you, and he said he would. The day that this
occurred, the dedication was going to be at something like 6:30 at night and I
went down to his office.
MR. STEINBACH: Was he still Attorney General?
MR. TERRIS: He was still Attorney General. I went to his office, and the two of us went
down to get in his limousine. I was cordoned off to sit in the front seat with
the glass partition dividing me from him because it became obvious later the
person he was talking to was a Congressman from New York City [laughter],
– -142-
and when I later learned he was going to run for the Senate, I knew that’s
what he was talking to the Congressman about. But I couldn’t hear what was
going on. We went over to the building where our little community center
was going to be with its pool table. That was going to be a center for the
men in the neighborhood, which it certainly did become. He was mobbed by
the little children there. I, of course, having no experience with this kind of
thing – I’ve never been an advance man – tried to get the children off him,
and he emphatically told me not to do that. He gave a little talk, and he left.
But I think that experience made him feel considerably closer to me.
MR. STEINBACH: This is a very hard question and somewhat out of context. What made him
so charismatic? You just described this situation that we can all picture as a
typical Bobby Kennedy moment. Nobody would have mobbed anybody else
who came to the dedication.
MR. TERRIS: That is absolutely right. That is absolutely right. Defining what charisma is I
think may be one of the hardest things one can do. Because he wasn’t, he
certainly wasn’t charismatic in small group conversations. I mean in
comparison to the time that I spent a few minutes with Lyndon Johnson, it
wasn’t even the same ballgame. Lyndon Johnson in those small
conversations was enormously charismatic. Robert Kennedy wasn’t. But I
think what somehow came through was how much he cared really about his
audience – that I think you could tell it without a lot of words that he really
cared to be there with those children. If there had been all adults there, it
wouldn’t have been the same. I think he had a feel for children, and of
– -143-
course he had a lot of them, and I think he had a feel for them. And I think
they could sense it. I find that a very inadequate explanation.
MR. STEINBACH: Before we leave the topic of legal services to the poor: Decades have
passed. Look back and reflect on your efforts to begin the process of
providing legal services for the poor. How proud are you of what you did?
How successful were you? What would you say the state of play is now?
MR. TERRIS: Well, I am proud of it, although it was a relatively short time in my life and
certainly lots and lots of other people have done all kinds of important things
in it. I think it’s an enormously beneficial program, but unfortunately it
hasn’t worked nearly as well as it should have because Congress has not
provided the money that it should. I’m not sure that it hasn’t actually over
the last decade or two had a decline in the amount of money if you take into
account inflation, and Congress has simply not been willing to expand the
program in a way that it should have. There’s an enormous demand, and if
you go to any legal services program what they basically will tell you is we
turn people away, people that are just as deserving of service as the people
we do serve. So I think that’s a pity. That’s really too bad.
MR. STEINBACH: So it’s your sense after all these decades that the need is still there, it’s
unmet in large respect?
MR. TERRIS: It’s still unmet. If somebody asked me what’s wrong with the American
legal system, this is what’s wrong with it, and it exists even more acutely in
the criminal field. When you read about some of the things that occur from
– -144-
failure to give adequate legal services to people that are accused of crimes,
even serious crimes, it’s a terrible blot on our system.
MR. STEINBACH: When you say “this” is what’s wrong with the legal system, what do you
mean by “this?”
MR. TERRIS: Inadequate resources to have the number of lawyers that are needed to
provide services to people that are poor.
MR. STEINBACH: After your efforts on the legal services front, you transitioned to what
colloquially becomes called the National Crime Commission. I think
technically President Johnson established a Commission on Law
Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, but we can call it the
National Crime Commission because that’s easier. Tell us just generally to
start off: what was that entity, and how did you get involved in working with
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember exactly how. I was thinking I was ready to move from the
Office of Economic Opportunity. I believe I got a call from Jim Vorenberg
who was going to be the executive director – I think that’s probably the title
he had, the head of the staff of the Crime Commission – and asked me if I
wanted to be the Assistant Director and to work on police/community
relations. I’m not sure how he heard of me, because I didn’t know him, and I
don’t believe he was at Harvard Law School when I was a student there. So
somehow I think he had learned that I had some knowledge of the problems
of poor people, so I had that offer. And then he also asked me at the
beginning to work on narcotics and drug problems.
– -145-
MR. STEINBACH: This is another almost call out of the blue for you. Had you been seeking
other jobs at that point? Had you looked around and thought about maybe
going to a private law firm or something?
MR. TERRIS: I certainly hadn’t thought about going to a private law firm because I didn’t
want to go to a private law firm. Although I don’t remember exactly, I’m
sure that didn’t happen. It would have been contrary to my whole thinking
about what I wanted to do in life. So I don’t remember whether I had made
any efforts to try to find a job. I might have and simply hadn’t found one.
But I don’t think I had. I think I was still enjoying the work I was doing at
OEO, which was kind of early work on setting up the new legal services
program. But on the other hand, I certainly would have entertained and did
entertain any good job offer.
MR. STEINBACH: So Vorenberg calls and asks you to consider working on the National Crime
Commission. What was the National Crime Commission?
MR. TERRIS: It was an effort to try to put together a program for the country to improve all
the different elements of the legal system that deal with crime – police,
prosecutors, corrections institutions. This isn’t an institution, but it’s
obviously very involved, which is narcotics and the whole drug problem, and
to take a look at that in a unified way to try to make significant
improvements and maybe to get the federal government involved in a way
that it hadn’t been.
– -146-
MR. STEINBACH: Is this somehow connected with the War on Poverty, or what was the
motivation for Johnson establishing this comprehensive overview of the
criminal process?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think it really had to do with the War on Poverty. It’s not my
recollection that it did. I think it came from the escalating levels of crime in
the country and the feeling that that couldn’t be dealt with unless there were
some major improvements in the institutions that dealt with crime.
MR. STEINBACH: Describe how the Commission was set up, organized, and structured.
MR. TERRIS: The Commission had a number of major people from the private sector. I
think the Attorney General may have been formally on the Commission, but
certainly that wasn’t where he was going to spend major time.
MR. STEINBACH: This would be Nicholas Katzenbach?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. But he did spend some time on it, and then there were people from all
kinds of [organizations], the bar associations, from corrections, people that
were major figures in the institutions that dealt with one aspect or another of
crime. And then you had staff that were going to write a very detailed report
– were going to go out to all kinds of academics and get them to write
preliminary papers and then put those preliminary papers together. Facing
me on the wall right in front of me is about, I would say, close to 18 inches of
material that came from [the Commission] – all those white documents there,
then the blue ones to the left is the actual report which is much smaller, but in
each one of the areas they did more detailed reports.
– -147-
MR. STEINBACH: These reports, I’m just looking, cover the police, juvenile delinquency, the
courts, narcotics, etc., and your particular focus, or your particular aspect of
the Commission’s work was on, largely, not exclusively, police/community
MR. TERRIS: That’s a part of the police report, and then that was summarized and put into
the overall report.
MR. STEINBACH: Right. And the overall report is called, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free
Society,” issued in, I think, 1967, although we can verify that.*
What was it
that got you interested in police/community relations, or were you just
assigned to that particular sub-topic?
MR. TERRIS: I was assigned to it, but I had been interested in it before. If you’re doing
work on the street with poor people, it’s inevitable you’re going to do some
thinking about how they relate to the police. Frequently poor people and
their children have one kind of problem or another with the police and with
the institutions that deal with crime, so I had done a fair amount of thinking
about it. I had also set up another institution actually on Capitol Hill, that
was a different idea, which was to set up a laundromat which would then
become its own little kind of community center to get help for people. In
doing that, one of the things I’d done in that area was to go on patrols with
the police.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you learn from that process?

The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society: A Report by the President’s Commission on Law
Enforcement and Administration of Justice. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office,
February 1967.
– -148-
MR. TERRIS: One thing I learned is how boring it is. You can drive eight hours a night and
nothing in the world happens, which may be a serious problem. I’ve never
seen anybody write about it, but it’s maybe a serious a problem because it
may lead people, from human instinct, to want to do things that maybe you
shouldn’t do, for a policeman to do. It allowed me to talk to police officers
for long periods of time and to talk to them about their relationship with
African-Americans and the problems as they saw it in the relationship.
MR. STEINBACH: So you brought that level of experience with you to your work on the
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: You’re there for two or three years, 1965 through 1967.
MR. TERRIS: It wasn’t three years because you have the pieces of two years that – I think it
was probably even less than two.
MR. STEINBACH: But it’s a considerable amount of time, one to two years. Tell us generally
how you spent those one-to-two years.
MR. TERRIS: A lot of reading, and then at the end a lot of writing, and a lot of talking to
people, talking to police. For example, the staff of the Commission itself had
a police officer who headed the police portion of it and he had been I believe
a captain in the police force in San Diego if my recollection is correct, and I
talked to him, and he had a deputy running that section of the Commission
who also had been a police officer. So you can learn a lot through people
like this who had had a lifetime experience in police work. So I talked to
them, I talked to other people on the Commission staff. And I also, I guess
– -149-
this is part of my personality, I also thrust my nose into some things that
weren’t strictly within my bailiwick, like sentencing and things of that kind,
and wrote short papers on them that then got considered by other people.
MR. STEINBACH: So in your particular area of police/community relations, you spent an
intensive amount of time collecting information, scholarly works, interviews.
I noticed in some of your publications there’s a fair amount of data, polling
data. Did you commission any of that or did you find it, or what?
MR. TERRIS: I found it. I don’t think anything was commissioned by the Commission
MR. STEINBACH: Are you working largely by yourself, or do you have a staff that’s doing this
for you?
MR. TERRIS: I’m all by myself.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re spending months trying to learn as much as you can about the
relationship between – well you tell me – between community and police?
What are you trying to learn?
MR. TERRIS: Correct. I’m trying to learn – you didn’t need to do a lot of learning that
there was a problem. The real learning is in, what are the solutions? How do
you deal with this problem, which is in the newspaper today and yesterday
and for the last few months, it’s the same problem. I don’t mean to say that
it’s as bad today or how it compares, but it’s essentially the same problem. I
certainly had to learn about what the problem is, but that’s probably the
easiest thing. The hard thing is, what do you do about it?
– -150-
MR. STEINBACH: So let’s define or describe the problem to start with that you learned,
discovered, ended up writing about, in your work on the Commission.
MR. TERRIS: The problem is there’s a lot of hostility between African-Americans – poor
people generally but certainly African-Americans and the police. It comes in
a number of different ways. One is crime is high in African-American
neighborhoods, but victimization is high too. People almost always sort of
think of it as a lot of African-American criminals. They tend not to think
about the fact that almost all the crime that is committed by AfricanAmerican criminals is committed against other African-Americans, it’s not
committed largely against people in the white community. I know people in
the white community think that isn’t true, but it’s absolutely true. So when
you talk about good police work and thorough police work and having a lot
of officers on the street, in one way that’s bad for the African-American
community, but in another way, it’s extremely good for the AfricanAmerican community. They need that kind of protection, and if they don’t
get that protection, it does very bad things for the community in a whole
variety of ways. People being victimized, people being afraid to go outside
of their houses when it gets dark, all kinds of things, so it’s a very difficult
problem how you deal with this. The problem is also exacerbated by the
police seeing the bad side of any community. That’s who they see. They
don’t spend their time around upstanding citizens. They don’t pay any
attention to upstanding citizens to a large degree. What they’re paying
attention to is the person on the corner who looks to them, by the way they’re
– -151-
dressed or the way they walk or something else, that they think leads them to
believe that person might be involved in criminal activity. They may very
often be wrong, and the stop-and-frisk problems we have today revolve
around this. But on the other hand, they’re not always wrong. Policemen
learn a lot by spending fifteen years out on the street. So it’s a very, very
complicated problem, and one that’s not easily solved by solutions that say,
well, you shouldn’t be stopping any more black youths than white youths. I
don’t know if you remember this quotation from Jessie Jackson. Jackson
said once that he was walking down the street at 2:00 in the morning and
when he saw a young black man walking towards him on his side of the
street, he crossed over to the other side of the street. Now that’s a very
telling statement, and it tells you a lot about the problem of how you deal
with very complex problems in neighborhoods where African-Americans
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re focused in part, in terms of the problem, on rising crime rates,
especially violent crimes, especially black-on-black crimes, in center city
areas across the country. You also – and I’m getting this from your writing
and the Commission’s publications – you also identify really rampant
negative attitudes towards the police on the part of minority groups, which
existed at the time. What do you think the root causes of those negative
attitudes were?
MR. TERRIS: Attitudes of African-American toward police or police toward AfricanAmericans?
– -152-
MR. STEINBACH: The community members toward the police.
MR. TERRIS: Well first of all I think there are some bad policemen. I don’t think there’s
any question about that. I think it’s very difficult to be a policeman, even if
you started out being a saint, it would be very difficult to be a policeman.
But they don’t all start out being saints either. There are people who become
policemen because they have an attitude, they want to be big-shots, they want
to be dominant over people, and particularly over black people. I think that
exists. I don’t think that’s most policemen by any means, but that exists, and
it doesn’t take a lot of people to become the figureheads for a bigger group.
So if you have a small number of policemen who treat African-Americans in
a totally improper way, they become the symbol of police generally, they are
the police. People don’t say, well I’m counting now, there are only five
percent of the police who are like this. The person who’s treated badly
doesn’t know that, and to them this is the police. So that’s part of it.
Part of it, though, is even with the best of policemen it’s a very difficult
problem. Do you stop people and start asking questions of 18-year-old
young people? I think policemen will tell you that to do that helps to control
crime, but it also helps make people very irritated at you, and so I think it’s
very uncertain about what method you should be using. [Rudolph] Guiliani’s
idea that you go and enforce the small statutes and ordinances in a
community – that he thinks reduces crime. Maybe it does. I think that’s not
as clear as people argue, but let’s assume it does. That’s going to make an
awful lot of people in the community mighty irritated, the feeling that every
– -153-
time I jaywalk and they say to themselves, well I know a white community
where people jaywalk all the time and they don’t get arrested for that. So
there are many, many different kinds of things. And then of course the
African-American community has other grievances which can spill over to
the institutions of authority generally; the way drugs are treated is really
pretty terrible in this country. It shows that basically whites and AfricanAmericans use drugs at roughly the same level and yet the people who go to
jail are African-Americans. The police are part of that same system.
MR. STEINBACH: One of the things the Commission points out, which is interesting and almost
ironic, is the sense back in the 1960s, that as police departments had become,
and police work had become, in the previous decade more professional –
police become more educated, more training – that rising professionalism at
the same time it aggravated or worsened police/community relationships.
What’s the cause-and-effect going on there?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t really know. I think the fact that you’re getting a few somewhat
better-educated police officers, I think that’s useful, I think that’s a good
thing, but unless you really change the structure of the police department and
how it sees its job, I don’t think that will make that enormous a difference.
What I wrote about coming out of the Commission was to argue that police
officers have to see themselves essentially as people serving the community,
not just serving the community by locking up serious criminals – of course
serious criminals have to be locked up – but that they have a variety of tasks.
[The police are] out on the street, nobody else is out on the street, nobody
– -154-
else is dealing with the ordinary population in the way that police do – they
have to see themselves as public servants in that kind of way. Attacking
crime is part of it, but it’s only a part of it. They see a young person they
think has got a problem, they should be trying to figure out what to do about
it. They’re not going to become the social worker, but they can get that
person help, and they’ve got to see their job I think in that way. And if they
did see it in that way, I think it would have a cascading affect [on] the
attitude of the public.
MR. STEINBACH: You point out in what you write that so much of the day-to-day role of a
policeman is not investigating or stopping crime or shooting a target but
simply human interactions and relationships much like a teacher or a social
worker. Elaborate on that.
MR. TERRIS: Most of us, after we get to say age 18, don’t deal with teachers. Most of us
don’t deal with social workers. The person who has contact with people if he
gets out of the car is the policeman. This was one of the things I was arguing
for, getting out of your car and walking the streets, and more police
departments are doing that today than at that time – so you’re dealing with
individual people. They’re often the only person from the government, from
authority, people deal with, and so that’s a very important relationship as to
whether the person you’re dealing with thinks that they are being respected
as a person. So the policeman is an important person in our society. It’s a
very, very important relationship.
– -155-
MR. STEINBACH: You write in your publications related to the police/community relations –
you call among other things for police who can in effect become more
sympathetic, empathetic, as human beings, almost as if you need or are trying
to create more of a mentor relationship on the part of a policeman. Am I
reading that right?
MR. TERRIS: That’s right, because a lot of the situations, even the criminal situations, are
quasi-criminal and quasi-social work. I mean you don’t want to forget the
criminal. For example, if you’ve got a situation, which police have all the
time, they go into somebody’s home and the issue is whether the husband has
been beating the wife or girlfriend or whatever, that’s a criminal situation and
you don’t want to ignore it as a criminal situation. It’s also a social work
situation, depending on the level of what’s happening, and trying to figure
out what’s happening, and trying to end it with a situation that protects the
woman but doesn’t shatter what might still be a decent relationship and a
family. It’s a very complicated problem and one that policemen really need a
lot of training in, and then a lot of empathy.
MR. STEINBACH: Your Commission recommends, among other things, more citizen advisory
groups. What was the thought there?
MR. TERRIS: When incidents do occur – let’s take the incidents we’ve been having lately
of police killings of civilians – it’s important to have a public institution that
can deal with them and has different kinds of people on it and can provide
some wisdom to the public, to the politicians, to the police, and in
appropriate situations, conduct their own investigations if there’s not another
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way to do it. Now the ones we’ve had lately, investigations have been done
by prosecutors, but frequently that has not occurred in the past, and having an
advisory board that does that in an effective way can make a contribution.
Usually they’re too weak to do it, they’re not set up properly and they don’t
have the resources to do it.
MR. STEINBACH: Your group also called for more minority recruiting for police officers and
police leadership. Explain the thinking behind that.
MR. TERRIS: There’s no question you’re not going to have a good system if you have a
mostly black community and you have mostly white officers. Even if the
white officers were every bit as empathetic with the community as black
officers, the black community is going to see it as that the institutions of
authority, of power, are in white hands. It doesn’t work. You can’t have
that. The police have to relatively closely mirror the community. It doesn’t
have to be perfect. If the community is 50% black, if there were 40% black
officers I don’t think anybody’s going to rise up and say that’s terrible. But
also the officers who come from a black community are going to have a
certain kind of empathy, a certain kind of knowledge, that’s going to be
superior to people who don’t come from that community and they have to be
taught in the classroom about it. So I don’t think there’s any question, that
also is important.
MR. STEINBACH: A final recommendation, or a further recommendation, of the Commission
was a ban or prohibition on certain types of what were deemed to be
excessive or aggressive police conduct. That brings up one of the things that
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the Commission did [which] was to put neutral observers in squad cars,
which sounds very much like what you did in your laundromat days.
MR. TERRIS: It’s not too surprising because I arranged some of that for other people on the
Commission staff.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about that project, which seems intriguing.
MR. TERRIS: I just told them that I had done that, and Jim Vorenberg immediately thought
it was a very good idea for other people to do it too so that they can get a
feeling for it, and I think he did it himself. My dim recollection is that he
MR. STEINBACH: One of the conclusions was that in a small but still significant percentage of
cases there was what the neutral observer deemed to be aggressive or
excessive police misconduct. Did it surprise you that you were able to sort of
see and document that so easily?
MR. TERRIS: It’s not terribly surprising because I think a considerable number of police
officers don’t think of what they’re doing as being wrong. I’m not talking
now about shootings or something like that, I’m talking about things that are
aggressive but are well short of that. I think they frequently don’t
understand. Training is really enormously important, and not training once.
I think that’s one of the big deficiencies is the idea of a person comes into the
police academy, train them for six months or whatever it is. These kinds of
things have to be repeated over and over because they go to deep-seated
things in your own psyche, so if you’re not training people over and over so
it becomes clear, we really mean it, this isn’t just what we’re doing because
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you’re becoming a police officer and you’ve got to go through training, we
mean it.
MR. STEINBACH: So you collect this information, you end up as a Commission making certain
recommendations of the sort we’ve been focusing on, and you write this up
as part of the Commission’s report. Why don’t you take us through that
process of getting your ideas and recommendations approved by the
Commission or published.
MR. TERRIS: This is one time in my life I had a real problem with a writing project. I
unfortunately acquired so much information that I really needed to write a
book by myself, not do something for the Commission. I wrote a much too
long detailed document, and it really looked like that I was going to have
trouble getting it cut down to the right length within the time period that was
essential to get it done, and so the person who ended up rewriting it was
Patricia Wald [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Who we’ve heard of before.
MR. TERRIS: That’s right. And so I can’t remember though whether what she rewrote was
the portion that went into the big volume on the police or just the portion that
went into the summary Commission report. But anyway, she rewrote one of
those two, and she did a good job of it.
MR. STEINBACH: The essence of the police community section of the National Crime
Commission’s findings and report is essentially your brainchild.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. What she did is edit. She did a fairly thorough edit, but the ideas were
my ideas, and she did a very good job of improving it.
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MR. STEINBACH: We’re going to come back to more on your Crime Commission work in a
second, especially about narcotics, which we haven’t focused on yet, but in
terms of police community relations, you end up publishing several other
works in a variety of legal journals, which we’ll reference in footnotes in this
interview transcript.*
So in 1967-1968, you are probably one of the nation’s
premier leaders, experts, consultants, on this particular topic. Would that be
MR. TERRIS: I’m a little reluctant. I wasn’t a consultant, because nobody came to me to
say, “Please, we want help changing our police department.” That, I think,
probably would never have happened without somebody having direct police
experience, and it didn’t happen with me. I think I did have considerable
expertise, and I think the article I wrote for the Political Science Journal,
which is one of the leading –
MR. STEINBACH: American Academy of Political Science.
MR. TERRIS: – is one of the leading periodicals in the country in the political science field,
has my ideas down to a reasonable length. So yes, I think I did know a lot.
There probably wasn’t anyone who knew more than I did.
MR. STEINBACH: If you could put yourself back in 1968 when you’re finally consolidating
these ideas and putting them in the streamline form such as in the American

See Terris, Bruce J. “The Role of the Police.” Annals of the American Academy of Political
and Social Science 374 (November 1967): 58-69; Terris, Bruce, J. “The Challenge of Crime in
a Free Society: The Responsibility of City Government: Win the War or Preserve the Peace?”
New Jersey Municipalities 45 (February 1968): 6, 15-19; Terris, Bruce J. “Black Versus Blue:
The Crisis in Police-Community Relations.” The Legal Issue – Catholic University Law School
9 (Winter 1968/69): 3-4, 14-15; see generally Task Force on the Police, The President’s
Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. Task Force Report: The
Police. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1967.
– -160-
Academy of Political Science extract that you wrote: What was your sense
of how your ideas were being received at the time?
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t really have an outside audience in the sense that when it came time to
write, we were no longer really dealing with the outside world. We were all
focused on getting a document out in the time period that was given to us,
and it was an enormous enterprise, as those volumes on the shelf indicate. It
was a tremendous, complicated enterprise. Within the Commission and the
staff, my ideas were welcome. There was, I guess, a little bit of tension that I
had with the police people that were the head of the staff on the police about
setting up special advisory commissions and community relations boards and
things of that kind. I was not terribly popular with the police people. So
there was a little tension, with that kind of thing. But essentially the ideas I
had were I think Jim Vorenberg’s ideas too. But as I say a little bit of tension
with the police people.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you have any sense in the next five to ten years following publication of
the Commission’s recommendations in your particular area, to what extent
police departments across the country paid attention to what you all had
recommended, or carried on life as normal and ignored what you suggested?
How influential was the Commission’s work?
MR. TERRIS: I’m really not sure about that, either in this field or any of the fields that the
Commission dealt with. I think it had some influence, but you know it’s
almost a truism, these commissions, they do elaborate things, the documents
they produce are wonderful documents, and they sit on the shelf. If you ask
– -161-
people, they would say that’s always what happens. I think I may be a little
too cynical, but I think it’s largely true. You’re only going to really get an
effect from this kind of thing if you have a bureaucracy whose job it is
afterwards to carry it out. Now there was some effort, and I can’t remember
exactly the timing of this, the Department of Justice got money to dish out to
police departments and other institutions in the criminal justice field. I don’t
think it happened immediately, though, but ultimately it did happen, and I
think they pushed ideas like the ones that are in the Crime Commission
report. Let me put it this way: Years afterwards, I don’t know how long ago
it is now, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, there was a reprise of the Commission.
There was a meeting here in Washington in which all the people that worked
for the Commission, as many of them as possible, came together again and
had a meeting for a couple of days, and that question was asked – your
question was asked. And I think there was a feeling that some of it had had
an effect, but by no means as much as obviously the people that worked on it
MR. STEINBACH: Did you feel at all at the time – I’m looking back now to ask this question –
but at the time you almost seem – this report is issued in 1967, 1968 – there’s
a lot going on politically and culturally then, which leads to Richard Nixon’s
election and almost a reversal of many public attitudes toward the War on
Poverty in the wake of unrest in the cities. Did you have a sense at the time
that you were writing, that this unique moment that might go away or that
– -162-
you were about to be swamped by a larger societal forces? That was a very
vague question, but I think you know what I’m asking.
MR. TERRIS: I do know. I think the answer to that is probably “no,” because people are
not very good at doing that, even smart people are not very good at doing
that. But at that moment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that
Richard Nixon or people like Richard Nixon were on the horizon. I think
you have to have a little bit of a footnote there because of the problem of
Vietnam, but the country did not seem to be repudiating these efforts, these
kinds of efforts, domestically. We should probably have been thinking about
that kind of thing. People that are involved in politics, and this is politics –
it’s not politics in the sense of getting elected directly, but it’s politics, it’s
how you run the government – always should be thinking about that. But I
think there wasn’t much such thinking.
MR. STEINBACH: I want to take you to late 2014 when we are talking together. In preparing
for this session, and I know you prepared for the session also, we’ve done so
by looking at your work 50 years ago. In the midst of tumultuous society
self-reflection on the events of Ferguson, Missouri and Brooklyn, New York,
and even over the weekend the shooting of two officers on patrol in New
York City, one reaction would be to say nothing has changed, the problems
of the 1960s are still with us. I’m not sure that’s your sense. Why don’t you
address it from that perspective. Has anything improved?
MR. TERRIS: I think things have improved. I don’t think they’ve improved anywhere near
enough, as the past few months have shown, but I think they’ve improved. I
– -163-
think in fact everybody in reaction to what happened in Ferguson realizes
that a black community can’t be policed by white officers. I think there’s
hardly anybody that thinks that makes any sense. Regardless of what
happened concerning the particular death of [Michael] Brown, the situation
in Ferguson was terrible. The discrimination against African-Americans by
the police, using it as a way of raising money for the city is outrageous. I
really haven’t seen anybody who thinks anything like that is justified. So
there are pieces of this that are certainly different than the way they were at
the time of the Crime Commission or maybe a few years before the Crime
Commission where that kind of stuff existed probably in half the country,
and nobody really thought anything about it. So those kinds of things I think
are very different. I think people today, if you said we really have to do
different kinds of training, I think everybody basically knows we’re not
training police officers in many communities in the right way. So there’s a
big improvement, I think.
The thing with Ferguson to me – and I’ve thought a lot about Ferguson
given my background, as you can imagine – Ferguson makes me very upset
in many ways. I’m very upset about the liberal position, [although] I’m
thorough-going liberal, which basically is second-guessing what the grand
jury did and the same thing in New York. You can’t second-guess a grand
jury unless you see the evidence. It’s absolutely impossible that anybody in
this country thinks that you can judge that officer without actually being
present at the [grand jury proceedings]. Now was that a fair grand jury
– -164-
inquest? I don’t know. I am a little suspicious that the prosecutors set it up
in a particular way, but I wasn’t there, and unless you read a transcript of the
whole thing, and maybe even then you can’t be sure if you weren’t there.
Very, very difficult to know. To me, the emphasis today should not be on the
two particular officers. If we get into that, we’re going to be in a situation
which in my opinion led to the death of the two officers who were killed [in
New York City]. I think what you have to do is go back to what the Crime
Commission was dealing with, how do you change these departments? I
don’t think the issue is whether you put these two officers in jail. I don’t
know whether they did the right thing or the wrong thing, but I’m very
convinced that for people like me who have never faced that situation, it’s a
very, very difficult situation. To me, you’ve got to change the police
departments, not put two officers in jail.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you ever say to yourself, “Gosh, I wish they’d just pull out our report and
do what we recommended 50 years ago?”
MR. TERRIS: Yes [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: I’m just reflecting on one man, one vote, and your involvement in that
markedly changes our political process, and the potential is there for the
same result with the National Crime Commission to markedly change social
relationships in our urban settings. Looking back, are you saddened,
disappointed, or not the least bit surprised that things have played out the
way they have?
– -165-
MR. TERRIS: One of the differences is, it’s an interesting difference. The Supreme Court,
even though the election-type things are done city-by-city, state-by-state and
everything, the Supreme Court as a national institution could lay down the
law. This is our decision, this is our country, everybody’s got to do it. The
criminal justice system in this country is largely split up so there is no ability
to do that that way. In many ways, that was the underlying deficiency of the
Crime Commission. Not its fault, but this is a Crime Commission for the
country, but it’s dealing with 50 states, thousands of cities and counties, and
most of them had no connection to the Crime Commission whatsoever. In
other words, if the Crime Commission had said we want the FBI to do
something, there’d be a connection. President Johnson could have said, I
want the FBI to do what the Crime Commission said. But there was nobody
to say that to the State of Nevada. They had to be persuaded by reading this
book, a much messier situation. That’s our criminal justice system in this
country – completely decentralized, or almost completely.
MR. STEINBACH: Which sounds pessimistic and almost non-fixable.
MR. TERRIS: Well it’s not fixable in a clean-cut way. We’re going to do this in the next
year. It’s not fixable that way. It’s got to be fixable, but in an incremental
way. And that’s very, very difficult. Something is happening now. I think
something good will come out of this process. If people concentrated not on
these two police officers, but on what’s wrong with police departments.
MR. STEINBACH: If you were the President or the Attorney General, would you set up another
national Crime Commission at this moment?
– -166-
MR. TERRIS: Well, I was a little too quick. If I thought that the federal government was
functioning, I would say my answer was no. Maybe because the federal
government now isn’t functioning that that’s the best thing that could be done
for the next two years. But the right way to do this would be for the
President to deal with Congress and to see whether there can be some
agreement on things that can be done, which means pumping some money
into the police departments to do certain things.
MR. STEINBACH: Any other reflections on this important aspect of your past?
MR. TERRIS: I’m afraid to go on because I’m afraid that’ll become our main discussion,
because as I said before, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, and I’m afraid
that we’ll concentrate too much on these two police officers and not on
what’s wrong with police departments.
MR. STEINBACH: Larger issues such as you focused on at the very beginning back in the 1960s.
Before we leave the topic of the Crime Commission, you had a role not only
in police/community relations, but also at least to some extent you focused
on narcotics and dangerous drugs. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about
your work there.
MR. TERRIS: The main thing that I remember was a topic of particular interest to the
Commission at that time, which has died down now. I’m not exactly sure
why. The idea of using methadone to get heroin addicts off of heroin was
being mooted about at that time, and it was a big issue with the Commission
– -167-
because of course it raises moral questions. You’re giving people one
narcotic to replace another narcotic, but if that works, isn’t that a good thing?
I spent a considerable amount of time working on that, and my recollection is
that the Commission basically did support it. The reason I say it’s my
recollection is I never wrote any of the work in the narcotics field. Before we
got to the writing stage, an additional person, Tony Lapham, was brought in
because the Commission thought it was such a big topic that to have
somebody to be doing it part time was not appropriate, so another person
came in and did that.
MR. STEINBACH: We’re a couple years away from comprehensive drug legislation that
Congress passes, I think in 1970 or 1971, that becomes colloquially known as
the War on Drugs. Does the Commission play a role in bringing us the War
on Drugs, or are these sort of independent acts?
MR. TERRIS: I think they were mainly independent. Most of the discussion in the
Commission while I was doing the work was on treatment and the like.
There was some discussion of police work and what have you, but I don’t
remember anybody having some brilliant idea about how we were going to
control the marketing of drugs in this country.
MR. STEINBACH: I guess it’s fair given at least your work on it at the time to ask for a
reflection now on – here’s a big question – the past 50 years of drug policy
by our nation.
MR. TERRIS: I have a lot of opinions on a lot of subjects, but I have always been baffled by
this. I have got to tell you I’m still baffled. I’m very uneasy about legalizing
– -168-
marijuana. On the other hand, clearly the efforts we’ve made to control
drugs have not worked. And certainly the number of people we lock up for
being essentially users and not traffickers I think makes no sense whatsoever.
I mean the effect on the black community is horrible. The percentage of
black males that spend time in jail because of drugs – just that alone explains
much of the problems of the poor black community, the portion of the black
community that’s poor. It’s terrible. But I don’t have [a solution] – it’s a
very, very difficult problem.
MR. STEINBACH: Is there anything else you want to add about your work on the National
Crime Commission that I may have neglected to trigger a recollection about?
MR. TERRIS: No, I don’t think so.
MR. STEINBACH: Why don’t you tell us where you’re headed next in your career, and we’ll see
how far we get before we take a lunch break.
MR. TERRIS: These little slivers, I keep forgetting what the order is.
MR. STEINBACH: At some point you leave the National Crime Commission. Is that because the
Commission has completed its work?
MR. TERRIS: It’s over, right.
MR. STEINBACH: And you become at some point a member of Vice President Humphrey’s
office. Is that the right transition from the Crime Commission to
Humphrey’s office, as far as you can remember?
MR. TERRIS: I think I did some work for a private law firm here for a short period of time,
and that may have been at this time for a few months. When did I do work
– -169-
for the Department of Justice Community Relations Service? Because I did
work for them too.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about that because I’m not certain I know this.
MR. TERRIS: I was asked by Roger Wilkins, who was the head of the Community
Relations Service. What dates do you have for that?
MR. TERRIS: Oh, so it was before the Crime Commission.
MR. STEINBACH: And let me for the record here – you became a consultant for the Community
Relations Service of the Department of Justice consulting on police and
community relations in 1965.
MR. TERRIS: Right. And Roger Wilkins asked me to do that. I went to several places in
the South to deal with police problems there, and I also went there to deal
with problems of setting up the legal services programs. Those were
interesting projects. I had never really been in the South dealing with
problems of African-Americans, so I found this quite interesting.
MR. STEINBACH: This would be in which states?
MR. TERRIS: I went to Mississippi, and I went to South Carolina. I’m not sure how many
other places I went to. It wasn’t a large number. This was not over a very
long period of time. It wasn’t the regular work of the Community Relations
MR. STEINBACH: This was during the time when those states were focused on the Voting
Rights Act legislation, mid-1965. Did you have any involvement in the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
– -170-
MR. STEINBACH: I meant to ask you earlier, did you have any continuing contact with
Lewis Powell after your work with him?
MR. TERRIS: No. But I had a fair amount of contact during that time that I was working
for OEO.
MR. STEINBACH: So let’s place you in 1967, 1968. Your Crime Commission days are over,
and you’re now the Assistant to the Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, for
the District of Columbia. How did you get that job?
MR. TERRIS: I’m not sure, but I have the feeling that it was also Steve Pollak [laughter]. I
was brought in, I don’t know if this is cynical, I was really brought in to do
what I could to prevent having a riot that summer.
MR. STEINBACH: In Washington, D.C.?
MR. TERRIS: In Washington, D.C.
MR. STEINBACH: The summer of 1967 or the summer of 1968? You started in 1967.
MR. TERRIS: That’s it. 1967.
MR. STEINBACH: So this is the summer before Martin Luther King and the riots.
MR. TERRIS: Correct. So I was to basically work on programs to deal with AfricanAmerican youth. And what does that mean? It meant getting jobs, maybe
that was most important, getting jobs, working with all kinds of other
agencies in town, and also setting up cultural programs, music programs, we
got name people to come in and play music in the parks, and that kind of
– -171-
MR. STEINBACH: How does all of this responsibility end up with Vice President Hubert
Humphrey of all people?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know [laughter]. I really don’t know. Probably, the President said to
him, you know, we can’t have riots in Washington, I’m giving you that job.
MR. STEINBACH: Were you on Humphrey’s staff?
MR. TERRIS: I think so. Yes, I think so.
MR. STEINBACH: As a government employee?
MR. TERRIS: Correct. Oh yes, I was definitely a government employee.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have an office in some building?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I was with a group of people that worked more across the country. I
was the only person working on the District of Columbia, and I was doing it
much more intensively than they were doing things across the country. I
mean I was calling the Director of the Department of Recreation as to what
his programs were. I was calling the Employment Service about how many
jobs they were going to get for young African-Americans. This was handson.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have any personal interaction with Humphrey himself about this?
MR. STEINBACH: Did you ever meet Humphrey in the course of your work?
MR. TERRIS: I met him later. It wasn’t that – oh, wait a minute, that’s not right. I did meet
him that summer, that’s right. He went around the city opening swimming
pools and I rode with him.
MR. STEINBACH: So this is in the days prior to Home Rule.
– -172-
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: And it’s almost my sense that a fair amount of the District’s day-to-day
business is in part the responsibility of Johnson, Humphrey, and the White
MR. TERRIS: Well when it comes to whether there are going to be riots, I don’t know
whether that’s true. Steve Pollak had himself considerable responsibility for
the District of Columbia. He was working in the White House. The reason
that came up was he went on vacation for two weeks during the summer and
for those two weeks, they wanted me to be in the Executive Office Building,
so I had to get some kind of FBI clearance, and at that same time, John
Hechinger was being considered to be the chairman of the City Council, so
they thought, the newspapers thought, momentarily [laughter] that I was
being appointed to be the chairman of the City Council. It was very
momentary before it was discovered that all I was doing was moving for two
weeks over to the Executive Office Building.
MR. STEINBACH: The first significant 1960s riot is in New York in 1964, followed by Watts
the following summer, and then in 1966 and 1967, there are dozens of riots in
dozens of cities. What did people at the time like you think were the reasons
those riots were occurring?
MR. TERRIS: Why I thought they were occurring, I think, is very different from what most
other people would have thought, that the situation for large numbers of poor
African-Americans was very, very bad and that there was a feeling of
hopelessness. Let me add one thing about this. One of the things I learned at
– -173-
Harvard College, and I’ll never forget this particular point, Crane Brinton, a
scholar of the French Revolution, said in class, and I won’t forget it,
“Revolutions occur when conditions are getting better. They don’t occur
when conditions are getting worse and everything is totally hopeless.” And
so I think that’s a fair description of what was happening during this period.
Conditions were getting better, but they were getting better at a very slow
pace, and people now realize, this doesn’t have to be what my life is going to
be. It doesn’t have to be this way. I want more. I want more for my
children, and people – I think that’s in many ways underlying what happened
with the riots. Things were getting better, but they were very bad. Both
statements are correct.
MR. STEINBACH: I was going to ask you, because we’re now after Martin Luther King’s civil
rights progress, we’re after two major legislative enactments on civil rights,
and we’re after the War on Poverty even – and then there’s starting to be
significant, almost routine, catastrophic unrest in our cities summer after
summer after summer, and that must have been very difficult to experience
personally and as a society.
MR. TERRIS: Absolutely. There are lots of people in society who think to themselves,
“I’m doing some good things, our society is doing good things, and look
what’s happening, things are getting worse. African-Americans didn’t used
to riot.” Of course that’s forgetting a few riots that did occur earlier in our
history. “But African-Americans didn’t used to riot, and now we have these
improvements going on and look what’s happening.”
– -174-
MR. STEINBACH: So one of the reasons you were brought in to work on youth programs, etc.,
was to try to do all that could be done within the government to prevent
Washington, D.C. from also erupting in 1967?
MR. TERRIS: I was obviously not dealing with anything fundamental. I was dealing with
the surface, and at one point I almost thought I was going to cause a riot
because I was told that young African-Americans were not coming in to get
jobs and there were jobs available, so I put out publicity that there were jobs
available, and then the number of people that came in was so huge that they
were having trouble getting jobs for them. People were wondering whether I
was going to be the cause.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you do on a day-to-day basis while you were assigned to
Humphrey’s staff working on District of Columbia issues?
MR. TERRIS: During that summer – I have to separate summer from the rest – during that
summer I nagged people. I can remember now I’d have a sheet of paper and
top to bottom, there’d be thirty names, and I would start going down the list,
calling, what’s going on with this, what’s happening with this? I was in
many ways the official nagger in which I was going to have them get done
what they promised they were going to get done. That’s largely what I did.
MR. STEINBACH: That’s to coordinate efforts inside the city’s bureaucracy to provide important
services that had been previously promised?
MR. TERRIS: That they’re not going to drop the ball, it’s not going to get delayed three
weeks. I called some music people to get them to come to be at concerts, that
kind of thing.
– -175-
MR. STEINBACH: What was your work like after the summer was over?
MR. TERRIS: The summer was over, I stayed on to work more generally in the country on
things that Hubert Humphrey was interested in. A lot of good things, small
business development for African-Americans, things like that. I got to meet
for the first time Marian Wright (she wasn’t Edelman then), a brilliant young
woman coming from Mississippi.
MR. STEINBACH: When did you meet her?
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember exactly which of the different things that I was working on.
MR. STEINBACH: So you continued through the rest of 1967 and early 1968 to work in
Humphrey’s office.
MR. TERRIS: I also was at this time teaching law at Catholic University.
MR. STEINBACH: Why don’t you tell us about that. You were a visiting Professor of Law at
Catholic, 1967-1968.
MR. TERRIS: Right. I expected that I was not going to be working for the Vice President
after that summer because I was hired to work on the summer [issues] and
nobody expected a riot in December. So I took a job with Catholic
University and then Humphrey wanted me to stay, so I did. But it wasn’t that
difficult to teach law at Catholic University and still do my other job. I
taught the full load, which was two courses. They were both Constitutional
Law. I’ve got to tell you I don’t think it’s that hard a job to do. I probably
wouldn’t want to say this to any of my professors, but it really wasn’t, and
particularly because I used entirely the Socratic method. I think it may be
true that except for making assignments, I didn’t say a full English sentence
– -176-
in the entire two courses. I am a great believer in the Socratic method.
Apparently it worked because I was voted after that year by the students the
best professor at Catholic University Law School [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: That was a one-year experience? Did you enjoy it?
MR. TERRIS: I also taught another course because the law school got irritated with me
because I didn’t hide it that I was working for Humphrey, so they said you
should teach another course in the spring, so I taught a course on urban legal
issues in a seminar. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t want to [be a law professor
permanently]. I’d actually, when I was in the Solicitor General’s Office,
been interviewed by several very good law schools, and I think I turned them
down, but maybe they turned me down. I believe I turned at least a couple of
them down. I didn’t want to do it then because the Solicitor General’s Office
was such a great place to work – but after Catholic University, I didn’t want
to do it, I was very sure I didn’t want to do it, because I really thought it
would have warped my personality. And the reason is, you’re really in a
position of complete control[. . .]. I’m not commenting on the work you do
because I think the work you do you ought to get a medal for, I’m a great
admirer of people who teach – but with law school, it was like I always felt
that I was almost manipulating the situation. I knew more than they did, and
besides, I’m in control, and I can essentially do anything I want, and that’s
not really good for the soul to do that. So I really didn’t have any interest in
continuing there or elsewhere.
MR. STEINBACH: So one year of teaching and you’ve never looked back?
– -177-
MR. TERRIS: No, I never looked back.
MR. STEINBACH: I think we’re about to move to 1968 and Robert Kennedy’s campaign for the
Presidency and your work on a variety of other ventures. At some point,
somehow, you transitioned from being an employee of Hubert Humphrey to
being a campaign staffer for Robert Kennedy. So take us through the events
of early 1968: Johnson’s surprise decision not to run again and then a freefor-all in the Democratic party for the nomination.
MR. TERRIS: Well of course there was a lot of rumblings through 1967 and then into 1968
about whether Johnson was going to run. Eugene McCarthy had announced
he was going to run. It seemed very clear, or at least I mistakenly thought it
was very clear, that Robert Kennedy was not going to run. So I didn’t do
really any thinking about the fact that I was working for Hubert Humphrey
and that maybe Robert Kennedy would run, because if he ran, I knew I would
attempt to join his campaign. Then of course everything changed. The
New Hampshire primary occurred, and Johnson pulled out, and that day, I
called Kennedy’s campaign and asked whether I could join his campaign,
and I resigned from Humphrey’s staff. I don’t know if it was still Drew
Pearson or his successor, but there was a little blurb that I left Humphrey’s
campaign to join Kennedy’s campaign.
MR. STEINBACH: Johnson doesn’t run again because of events in Vietnam largely.
MR. TERRIS: Or maybe events in New Hampshire [laughter].
– -178-
MR. STEINBACH: Exactly. Which he wins, but not at all convincingly for an incumbent
President. What’s your recollection at this point? It’s 1968. Has Vietnam
touched your life very much up to this point?
MR. TERRIS: No. Obviously like any American I thought about it. I was not a gung-ho
person about opposing the war. I considered it a considerably more
complicated issue than a lot of my friends did. I can remember during this
period I happened to be, or really my wife and I were, friends of Joe Califano
and his wife, and I can remember being over at his house and having
discussions about all this. I was much more, I guess, not certain. During this
period also, maybe a little earlier, it was definitely somewhat earlier, Robert
Kennedy had gotten me a job offer from John McNaughton, who was what
people called the Secretary of State for the Defense Department. He was an
Assistant Secretary of Defense, and he handled all their diplomatic affairs.
I’m sure that’s not the right name for it, but that’s what he did, and I would
be his chief of staff. I went over and I talked to him, and I decided not to do
it, partly because my attitude was rather mixed on the war, but also partly
because it was very clear that would be the end of my ever seeing my family
to have a job like that, and so I didn’t accept it. So I wasn’t clear on the
Vietnam War itself, but I was very clear that if Robert Kennedy was running
for President, I wanted to be part of it.
MR. STEINBACH: So McCarthy does well. Johnson decides not to run again. Was that
announcement – it’s now deemed as a big surprise in retrospect – at the time,
was that a surprising announcement?
– -179-
MR. TERRIS: Enormously surprising.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. Either it was enormously surprising or I was a very dumb guy, let’s put
it this way, because I was enormously surprised, and I think other people
were too. That didn’t seem like what Lyndon Johnson would do.
MR. STEINBACH: A week or so after that Robert Kennedy decides that he too is going to enter
the Democratic nomination against, at this point, McCarthy. Had you given
any thought of working at all for McCarthy?
MR. TERRIS: It never really crossed my mind that I’d work for him. First of all, I didn’t
think he was a heavy-weight, he had never been a heavy-weight, Senator. I
didn’t think he was qualified to be president. He had obviously an issue, a
very powerful issue[. . .]. His main argument was, I had the courage to stand
up, Robert Kennedy didn’t have the courage to stand up, therefore you ought
to vote for me for President.
MR. STEINBACH: Bobby Kennedy at this point had been a New York Senator for almost two
years. Had you been involved at all in his 1966 campaign in New York or
any interactions with him while he was a United States Senator?
MR. TERRIS: No. I had mainly been in government so I really couldn’t have done it, and I
MR. STEINBACH: When Kennedy decides to announce, was it clear at that point that Humphrey
was going to be the heir apparent from Johnson’s perspective, and he, too,
would run for President?
– -180-
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think it was entirely clear, but it certainly seemed like a possibility. I
don’t think it was more than a possibility that he would.
MR. STEINBACH: I guess I’m asking indirectly, and will ask clearly: Did you think you were
making a choice between Humphrey and Kennedy when you went to work
for Kennedy?
MR. TERRIS: Oh yeah.
MR. STEINBACH: Why did you pick Kennedy instead of Humphrey to be the next president?
MR. TERRIS: I knew Kennedy, and I had enormous admiration for him.
MR. STEINBACH: So Kennedy announces that he’s going to run, and you call the campaign.
Do you remember who you called or what you asked or what you were
MR. TERRIS: No. I’m not sure. I wasn’t offered much of anything. My job was not one of
the more important jobs of his campaign, I can tell you that.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you do in the 1968 Robert Kennedy campaign?
MR. TERRIS: Mostly just messed around and did research on some topics, most of which I
don’t think probably ever saw the light of day in a speech, talked to some
academics and some people to get them on committees. People like to fool
around with that kind of stuff. We’ve got this committee of professors that
deal with this or that or whatever, so I did some of that kind of thing.
MR. STEINBACH: Were you focused primarily on urban issues, police issues, the sort of stuff
you had done before?
– -181-
MR. TERRIS: I’m sure it was urban, it certainly wouldn’t have been foreign policy or
defense. Those aren’t subjects I really had any expertise in, so I’m quite sure
it was domestic.
MR. STEINBACH: You didn’t travel with Kennedy at all?
MR. TERRIS: Not at all.
MR. STEINBACH: Any interactions with him at all during the campaign?
MR. TERRIS: The only interaction I had with him during the campaign was the week
before he was assassinated, there was a caravan of cars – the District of
Columbia’s primary was the week before California’s – and there was a
cavalcade of cars in which I was sitting in one car and as he ran by, he ruffled
the back of my head. That’s my connection with him during the campaign.
Other than that, I never saw him during the campaign. Of course he rarely
was in Washington.
MR. STEINBACH: But he ruffled your head on purpose because he recognized you.
MR. TERRIS: I guess so.
MR. STEINBACH: That’s a good connection. We’ll count that [laughter]. So this would have
been most of April, most of May, into the first few days of June that you
were full-time working?
MR. TERRIS: I was still teaching too during that time period, but again, I was at the
headquarters, except for the time I was actually teaching. One of my classes
was in the evening and one was during the day. Except for that one class
during the day, I was in the campaign headquarters. I would prepare at night
for my classes.
– -182-
MR. STEINBACH: How exciting was that campaign?
MR. TERRIS: The campaign was enormously exciting. The work I did wasn’t enormously
exciting. I didn’t interact with important people. The people that were
writing the speeches, I never saw them. They were out with Kennedy
wherever he was. But the campaign, I thought, was enormously exciting. It
was really a campaign that was based on Kennedy’s charisma and his ability
to rouse people in a way that isn’t usual.
MR. STEINBACH: What likelihood of success did you envision at the time for the campaign?
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t go into the campaign saying Robert Kennedy is certainly going to
become President. In a way it really didn’t matter. That really wasn’t a
critical question. If somebody had proven to me that his chance of becoming
President were 10%, I would have done exactly the same thing I did. So that
wasn’t how I was approaching the issue. But I thought the chances were
good [he would] win the Democratic nomination. I thought that McCarthy
had fundamental weaknesses, that ultimately he would not have been able to
prevail. He would have had to, I think, sweep the primaries to have done it,
and of course he couldn’t sweep the primaries. He ended up losing most of
the big primaries. So I felt pretty confident that Kennedy was going to win
the nomination. Who knows about the actual election?
MR. STEINBACH: What was it about Robert Kennedy and his candidacy that, even now, you
say you would have volunteered even if he had only a 10% chance of
– -183-
MR. TERRIS: As I think I said earlier in one of our interviews; maybe I didn’t, if not, I’m
glad to say it now: I think of all the politicians in my adult lifetime, he was
the most principled politician. A principled politician is in some ways a
dangerous politician – and there was a danger in him, and that was he really
had some very deep-seated ideas of the way this country should run. Most
important, I think, what he thought about poor people. It was not a
coincidence that he went out to see Cesar Chavez, that he went into the hills
of West Virginia, that he went into the ghettos across the country, that he
went to Indian reservations. Those [actions] were not contrived. Like the
way he appealed to those schoolchildren at the community center that I’d
started. These were really what he fundamentally believed, and I’d never
seen anything before that time or since of a politician who really felt that
MR. STEINBACH: There’s this sense out there that Robert Kennedy’s hard edges were softened
and mellowed a lot after his brother’s assassination. Any reflections on
whether that was true from your perspective? The ruthless Bobby Kennedy
from the past?
MR. TERRIS: Obviously there are people who knew him much better than I did. That’s not
what I saw. His attitude on one man one vote I thought was very indicative
of somebody who wanted to do what is right and had a clear idea of what
democracy meant. He prosecuted all kinds of people. It was not good
politics. Prosecuting Hoffa was not good politics. Now there are people who
would say he went too far with Hoffa, that he wouldn’t quit. You can call
– -184-
that ruthless or you can call it that he believed based on the evidence that he
had that Hoffa was a very corrupting influence on American labor. I think
that’s what he thought. And he also had the same idea about the corrupt
Democratic politicians who he prosecuted. Yes, if you call it ruthless,
maybe. And the fact is, as I said before, a principled politician in some ways
is a dangerous politician. In some ways the least dangerous politician is one
that goes with the flow, pragmatic, doesn’t have too many principled ideas. I
think Kennedy was not that kind of politician.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’ve only been working on the Kennedy staff a few weeks when Martin
Luther King is assassinated, which is an event I’m sure you can recall.
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: What do you remember about that, and were you in Washington when that
MR. TERRIS: I wasn’t, and I’ve never been able to figure out now what I was doing there, I
was in Seattle. But I don’t think I was working on the campaign. I don’t
know why I was in Seattle.
MR. STEINBACH: Martin Luther King is assassinated, and do you recall Robert Kennedy’s
speech in Indianapolis that night?
MR. TERRIS: I recall it then, and I have a copy right over there, because I talked to some
people in my office about Robert Kennedy, and that speech is a remarkable
speech. So I know that speech fairly well.
MR. STEINBACH: It is a remarkable speech. What’s your perspective on what makes it so
– -185-
MR. TERRIS: First of all, it came straight from the candidate. It’s quite obvious it didn’t
come from speechwriters. He had wonderful speechwriters, but I don’t think
they wrote that speech. The other thing, I think you can tell that it came from
the heart. It came from somebody who had been very deeply affected by that
assassination. Of course of all the people in the country who would be just
about the most affected by that assassination, certainly pretty close to the top
of the most affected would be Robert Kennedy, given what had happened to
his brother.
MR. STEINBACH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but prior to the assassination of Martin Luther
King, there had been no major riots in the city of Washington, D.C.
MR. TERRIS: I think that’s right.
MR. STEINBACH: And then that changed after the King assassination. What was your
reflection on that after having spent a good part of the previous year trying to
prevent that from occurring?
MR. TERRIS: Well I didn’t think that I would have been the one that stopped it. Things
like that, you feel terrible, but I really felt terrible as a citizen, not for other
MR. STEINBACH: Do you know what happened to the particular geographic neighborhood that
you had devoted all your efforts?
MR. TERRIS: It wasn’t affected.
MR. STEINBACH: It was not affected during the riots?
MR. TERRIS: No. But it didn’t have stores in it. It was a residential block.
– -186-
MR. STEINBACH: You at some point came back from Seattle to Washington. Describe the city
at the time of the riots.
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t go into the riot areas. I would’ve been a very foolish person if I had.
So I didn’t go into the areas. I got my information totally from television and
the newspapers, and it was obviously a very, very sad situation. A very, very
difficult situation.
MR. STEINBACH: From the perspective of working on Kennedy’s campaign, did that make the
sense of urgency all the more of having somebody like him elected?
MR. TERRIS: Sure. Lots of things in the country at that point, domestically that was a
terrible problem, and we still had to do something about Vietnam.
MR. STEINBACH: There’s this sense, looking back, that 1968 was the year that everything fell
apart. Did people in 1968 think that way?
MR. TERRIS: I think so, at least for a lot of people, I think so. The assassinations, the
accumulation of assassinations, I think had just a terrible effect on huge
numbers of people. It’s one thing to have serious problems – riots, a war
that’s certainly not going well – but that’s one level, but even when they’re
really bad, that’s not quite the same thing as saying your democracy isn’t
working, that you elect a president and he gets killed, that you have a great
leader of a large minority population who was a very positive leader and a
leader that’s really good for the country and he gets assassinated, and then
you have a presidential candidate that’s assassinated. There’s a sense of
almost hopelessness. What do you do in this kind of a system? And then
what you get is Hubert Humphrey running for President from that side who’s
– -187-
really not the representative of that side, and then you get Richard Nixon.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s not forget George Wallace in 1968. Tell us what you remember about
the Robert Kennedy assassination.
MR. TERRIS: These things you never forget where you were and what you were doing. I
went home from the campaign office, turned on the television, and heard that
he’d been shot. I called my father who was a doctor and asked him what he
thought the situation was. My father said he thought he would die. It wasn’t
like the John Kennedy assassination which of course was overwhelming. My
wife and I sat in front of the television set for whatever it was – two or three
days – essentially without moving. This of course didn’t have that kind of
attention, but I found out, of course it was announced, that the funeral was
going to be in New York at St. Patrick’s, and so I got myself to New York.
I’m not even sure anymore, I can’t even remember how I got to New York,
but I got to New York.
I went to the funeral, and then I got myself on the funeral train that came
back. That was really a terrible experience in so many ways. I can
remember in the car I happened to be in, [John Kenneth] Galbraith was in,
the Harvard professor and Ambassador to India. Very peculiar how people
react to things like this. He went around pontificating. Very peculiar.
We arrived in the Newark train station, and a person was killed on the
tracks, which of course was horrifying. I didn’t see it, and I’m not even sure
now whether I saw the body afterwards. It was so traumatic that I’m not
– -188-
even exactly sure what I saw. But that got the people that were running the
railroad to slow down the train. It had been going at the usual clip and it got
slowed down. I think it took, I’m not sure exactly, but it took something like
eight or nine hours to get to Washington. It went extremely slowly. In all
the cities, of course, the train stations were packed. But the most impressive
thing were the people in the countryside, most of whom who had been
waiting for hours, four, five, six hours.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re on the train watching the people watch the train, paying their
respects to Senator Kennedy.
MR. TERRIS: I’ll never forget – there was one hillside – there was one family – had a sign
saying – “Goodbye, Bobby, we love you.” [Pause.]
MR. STEINBACH: Any other events from that day? Did you attend the ceremonies that took
place at Arlington National Cemetery?
MR. TERRIS: I’m not sure actually. I don’t think I did, because I don’t think I got an
invitation. But I’m really not positive. Because I have attended a ceremony
for him there, and I don’t remember whether it was then or some time later.
MR. STEINBACH: Obviously the most important thing at the time is not your future career, but
Kennedy’s death does change what you’re doing.
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: What happens to you after your job for the Kennedy campaign has ended?
MR. TERRIS: The thing that most flows from it is that, in the primary that occurred a week
before his death, he of course won an enormous victory here in the District of
Columbia, and it would have been impossible for him not to have won an
– -189-
enormous victory in the District of Columbia. Nobody was going to beat him
in this city or come even remotely close. The Kennedy campaign chose me
to run for the Democratic Central Committee, the committee that ran the
Democratic Party in the District of Columbia. His delegates won, his slate of
delegates won, and his slate for the Democratic Central Committee won, so I
was on the Democratic Central Committee. I think approximately in July,
not that long after the assassination, the committee met and chose its officers,
and I was chosen the chairman. Not so much I think because of me, but
because of a very excellent black leader in town, Channing Phillips, who had
been elected as the Democratic National Committeeman, supported me for
that position. That goes way back. I knew him for a long time before on all
these housing things that I had done. He was the executive director of the
housing organization that I had helped form in the city.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re essentially the chairman in D.C. of the Democratic Party?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Elected by the Democratic voters of Washington?
MR. TERRIS: They elected me to the committee, and then the committee elected me.
MR. STEINBACH: You served in that position for almost four years?
MR. TERRIS: Correct. Until the next primary, in 1972.
MR. STEINBACH: How big was the Democratic Central Committee? How many members?
MR. TERRIS: Probably about 25.
MR. STEINBACH: What was its function or purpose?
– -190-
MR. TERRIS: I’m not exactly sure what its purpose was before our group was on it. The
group that I was chairman of was an interesting group because it was an
amalgamation of McCarthy people and Kennedy people. McCarthy’s people
did not put up a separate campaign here. The campaign here was between
this slate and a Humphrey slate. So the committee had a lot of people on it
whose big issue was the Vietnam War. I would say that’s where the real
McCarthy people were focused, and they were mainly white, and as I say,
that was their main emphasis. The Kennedy people were more of a mix, but
they were probably mainly African-American, and they had much more of an
interest in the affairs in the District of Columbia and Home Rule and all
kinds of other things in the District of Columbia – police activities, schools,
whatever. We took it as our job that we were the closest thing to
representing the people in the District, and that’s really what we really did for
four years, was to essentially act in a way that we tried to reflect that point of
MR. STEINBACH: Before we quite get to that, let’s finish 1968. Did you go to the Chicago
MR. STEINBACH: Any role in campaigning for the rest of the 1968 electoral affair?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think I did very much of anything. For one thing, in the District of
Columbia, there was, to put it mildly, not the slightest chance in the world
that Humphrey was not going to win here, so the level of campaigning was
very much lower generally. I can’t really remember doing much of anything.
– -191-
First of all, a number of the people on the committee were by no means
enamored with Hubert Humphrey.
MR. STEINBACH: What was your personal sense? You were chairman of the Democratic
Committee for Washington, you’ve now got Hubert Humphrey as your
standard bearer. You used to work for him. So what was your sense of
Humphrey as the candidate?
MR. TERRIS: I was very much in favor of Humphrey. I mean the choice was pretty clear
that I wasn’t going to support anybody else. Not only because I was the
Democratic chairman, but because certainly his ideas on domestic issues
were very much closer to mine, and I wasn’t nearly as far away from him as
many of my fellow committee members were in terms of Vietnam. There
were other people on the committee who were for pulling out in ten minutes.
So I was favorable to Humphrey, but it was hard to get myself back into
campaign mode.
MR. STEINBACH: What was your personal feeling after Humphrey lost?
MR. TERRIS: I was sad about that. I certainly didn’t think we were going to get a very
good result from the victor.
MR. STEINBACH: Over the next four years, you stay on as the chairman of the DC Democratic
party. This is a time when Washington now finally has an appointed mayor,
I think. Walter Washington was appointed in the middle of Lyndon
Johnson’s presidency, and I think at this point an appointed City Council,
also by Johnson. That changes later on in 1973. Did you have much
interaction with the appointed Mayor and the appointed City Council?
– -192-
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Mayor, but I had a lot of interaction
with the City Council. I appeared in front of it over and over again.
MR. STEINBACH: In what capacity? Why?
MR. TERRIS: As I indicated before, we considered ourselves the representatives of the city
of the people of Washington. The City Council was not representative of the
people of Washington. They hadn’t been elected to anything. So on issue
after issue, we went up there, frequently myself, sometimes somebody else
on the committee would have more expertise than I did and somebody else
would go up. Education, health, police. I called for Chief [John] Layton to
resign, and I’ve forgotten even the issue now, but it was a police/community
relations issue. And a host of other issues. I went up to Congress and
opposed people, nominees, that the President had appointed to be appointed
judges because they didn’t live in the District of Columbia. Things of that
MR. STEINBACH: That would have been President Nixon by this point?
MR. STEINBACH: So you function in effect as D.C.’s chief elected official?
MR. TERRIS: Well that’s obviously pushing it a little far, but in the sense that we thought
what we were doing is telling non-elected officials what we thought a
majority of people in the District of Columbia wanted, and they should be
paying attention to that by coming as close as possible to seeing themselves
as representatives of the public.
MR. STEINBACH: Were you accepted in that role, or were you ignored and marginalized?
– -193-
MR. TERRIS: I think we were accepted in the role in the sense that I think we were treated
seriously by the Council members. The Council members, many of whom
were good people – people that themselves were really good representatives
of the District. John Hechinger was a good representative. I used to play
tennis with him. I think he was a conscientious chairman of the City
Council. There were other people that were conscientious Council members.
I think they took seriously what they thought the public wanted. But on the
other hand, they also knew they were appointed by somebody else, weren’t
elected, so they had pressure from other directions. So it’s not that
everything I said they immediately jumped up and down and said we’ll do
MR. STEINBACH: I read that when Lyndon Johnson appointed the city commission, he said to
the city commissioners he had appointed, “Act as though you were elected,”*
which is an intriguing way of running a local government.
MR. TERRIS: [Laughter] So we were trying to push them along the same lines.
MR. STEINBACH: It sounds like largely, cordially, consensually, for the most part.
MR. STEINBACH: How about relations with Congress from your perspective during these
MR. TERRIS: I went up to Congress a number of times too. [John] McMillan was terrible;
he ran the House District Committee. I appeared before him a few times.
Obviously he wasn’t going to pay the slightest bit of attention to me. The

Delaney, Paul. “District of Columbia, to Gain Subway, Accepts Bridge and Freeway It Did
Not Want.” New York Times, August 24, 1969.
– -194-
argument that I represented somebody in the District was about as persuasive
to him as if I said that I represented somebody from Mars.
MR. STEINBACH: You are during this same time period – actually a couple years even longer –
a member of something called the District of Columbia Home Rule
Committee. I think that’s maybe self-evident from its title, but tell us what
that was about.
MR. TERRIS: It was an organization that had existed for a fair length of time, and a lot of
people in the District that had titles were on it, and a lot of other people too.
A fellow by the name of David Carliner was the head of it I believe at that
time. I don’t think it was the most effective group in the world, because it
really didn’t have a very big base. Carliner was white, not AfricanAmerican. If you really wanted to have an effective Home Rule apparatus,
you really had to be working through the black community. Much more
power was in another group that I was in, the Coalition of Conscience, which
may have ended by that time. I’m not sure exactly when it ended. That had
people like Walter Fauntroy and Channing Phillips and Marion Barry and the
Episcopal bishop of Washington, and a representative from the Catholic
Archdiocese, Geno Baroni. It still didn’t have much power because we
didn’t have elected government, but there was more power there than there
was in the Home Rule Committee.
MR. STEINBACH: When you were seeking Home Rule back in the late 1960s, what did Home
Rule mean at that time?
– -195-
MR. TERRIS: It pretty much means what we’ve got, except without Congress being able to
veto legislation of the City Council.
MR. STEINBACH: But this was for D.C. to be able to elect its own self-government?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I’m sure that they also would’ve loved to have a Congressman and
Senators, but that isn’t what the focus was. The focus started out as being
able to vote for President. That seemed like a small little thing that you could
MR. STEINBACH: Which did get achieved before your time.
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: So the Constitution gives Congress control over the District of Columbia,
that’s pretty much undisputed. What were your arguments that the District
should govern itself? What would you say to people?
MR. TERRIS: That’s not democracy. There’s no reason why you have this group of people
that don’t have any democratic rights. We have more people than some
states, that we should have the right that everybody else has.
MR. STEINBACH: You still have a Democratic Congress at this point, but no receptivity on this
MR. TERRIS: No. Because the key committee is run by Congressman John McMillan from
South Carolina. Home Rule would have been absolutely the last thing he
would want. One thing we haven’t talked about, and that is the background
of all this in the District is that the District of Columbia was segregated until
very shortly before I came to it. Schools were segregated, water fountains
were segregated. Bolling v. Sharpe [347 U.S. 497 (1954)] is the decision
– -196-
which is the equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education. I believe it was
decided in 1954. I think for people today, if you ask people on the street, at
least white people, and you ask them how long has Washington been
desegregated, first of all, they might think it never had segregation.
MR. STEINBACH: Or they might say Civil War or something.
MR. TERRIS: Right. It’s amazing. It’s even amazing to me when I think about it.
MR. STEINBACH: So the District does get some sort of self-rule in 1973, I believe, when we
start electing our Mayor, electing a City Council. So you must have some
resonance of success with your arguments to get to that point, relatively
shortly down the road.
MR. TERRIS: I think the power of the South in Congress was a big difference.
MR. STEINBACH: Looking at news clippings from these years, one of the things one discovers
is that you manage to get yourself jailed at one point over District of
Columbia issues.*
We have to cover all things in this interview.
MR. TERRIS: Well actually I was jailed at least twice. The first time I was jailed had to do
with housing, which we talked about in an earlier session, in which the code
inspectors came in and said one of our houses wasn’t up to code. Well we
hadn’t gotten it up to code yet.
MR. STEINBACH: This is when you were doing community work in D.C.?
MR. TERRIS: Right. But of course we were going to get it up to code. But anyway I was
arrested, and I can’t remember what happened in court, I don’t think I was
penalized in court. The other one never went to court, the time I got arrested

Delaney, Paul. “District of Columbia, to Gain Subway, Accepts Bridge and Freeway It Did
Not Want.” New York Times, August 24, 1969.
– -197-
when I was chairman of the Democratic Party. That occurred when a group
of people were protesting in the City Council chamber the possibility of
freeways being driven into the center of Washington, and I was not
protesting. I was standing on the side. I was there because of my job of
being chairman of the Democratic Party, but I was not part of the protest.
But I was standing there. I had gone because I wanted to witness the
[committee] hearing, but the hearing broke down into protests, and they
swept the room. So I got picked up. But I got released after a very short
MR. STEINBACH: You made the New York Times.
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t even know that [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: The underlying story is interesting. This is apparently how Washington got
its subway funding, which was a quid pro quo. Southern leaders in Congress
held up the subway funding, which had already been appropriated, until the
District agreed over I guess its own objections to a highway and a bridge,
which none of the local people apparently wanted. Remember that whole
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember the trade, though. I remember the fight about the highway,
and I remember the people, at least one of the people, who were involved.
He was on the Democratic Central Committee, Sam Smith.
MR. STEINBACH: The New York Times story makes it seem as if the subway funding came only
after the District reluctantly agreed to the freeway, but at that meeting where
– -198-
the decision was made, violence erupts and you are arrested and imprisoned,
so I’m glad we cleared up that you didn’t purposely lead a riot.
MR. TERRIS: [Laughter] No. But the highway wasn’t built either.
MR. STEINBACH: Oh. Interesting. After 1972, you’re no longer officially involved in the
Democratic National Committee here in the District, but the Home Rule story
has continued, and you still live in the District. What’s your sense after the
past 40 years of effort about D.C.’s status?
MR. TERRIS: I think the District, like probably most cities in the country, has good mayors,
some not so good mayors, some corruption, probably not more than most
cities. It’s not terribly well-governed. My connection with the District since
that time has largely been in the areas where our firm has brought lawsuits
against the District, about which in those specific areas, I know an awful lot,
but in other areas, I’m just a regular member of the public. So I know
something by reading the newspaper. I think democracy is a good thing, so
it’s a lot better than it was, but it’s not perfect, and never probably will be.
MR. STEINBACH: Where would you go from here to make D.C.’s relationship perfect? Should
it be a state? Should it have voting rights in Congress? What would you do?
MR. TERRIS: I think that should be done, but I don’t think that will change anything
fundamental in the District of Columbia. I think these changes should be
made, because I think it’s a symbol of the way we run our democracy, but I
don’t think we would do better by our poor people, have a better educational
system, a better health system. That’s got to come just by getting better
people in office, hope that the economy is good in the city so we can raise
– -199-
sufficient taxes – that kind of thing. That would be the same answer in
Philadelphia, and the same answer in Los Angeles.
MR. STEINBACH: So the underlying social and structural problems will be with us no matter
what happens politically?
MR. TERRIS: Well those kinds of things politically. Other kinds of things politically are
much more important, deeper, how the city, political parties, choose people
to run for office. Those kinds of things. What kind of money is there that
goes to what kinds of candidates. Those kinds of things are fundamental.
People say [we want to have] Senators for the District of Columbia, but I
don’t think that would change very much in the District of Columbia. Two
Senators out of 102.
MR. STEINBACH: As the former chairman of the Democratic Committee in Washington, do you
think it’s a good thing that Washington contains only Democrats?
MR. TERRIS: Probably not. It’s probably bad everywhere that you don’t have
competition[. . .]. It used to be in a great many places there was real
competition in districts, in cities, and what have you. That works in a very
interesting way. Let’s assume you’ve got a city or a place that is
conservative. What will happen in a well-organized democratic system is
that both parties will trend conservative so there’ll still be competition. In
other words, in a well-run system, you won’t have, because it’s conservative,
Republicans win every single office all the time, because what the Democrats
will do is they’ll trend conservative to compete with them, and vice versa in
liberal places. Think of the way it used to be in New England where you had
– -200-
Republicans who were moderates or even liberals and they got elected.
Today in the South, there’s no such thing as a Democratic Party. I read a few
years ago that in South Carolina, 10% or 15% of whites were Democrats.
They essentially don’t have a Democratic Party anymore.
MR. STEINBACH: So large parts of the country are becoming one-party places, and D.C. may
have been ahead of the times.
MR. TERRIS: Exactly. And no, that isn’t good. It would be much better if the Republican
Party here could trend in a liberal direction. It would have to trend in that
direction. Most of the people here don’t have the same views as the Tea
Party. You couldn’t run a Republican Party that way. But the trouble is a lot
of people here vote without ever looking at the particular person. They vote
Democratic, that’s it. [David] Catania, for example, may very well have
been somebody who in most places would have been a Democrat.
MR. STEINBACH: So you end up in your Democratic committee role through 1972. Did you
carry that all the way through the McGovern defeat, or had you left that
MR. TERRIS: We’d been replaced. At the time of the primary, a new group of people are
elected, and that was the end for us.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have a horse in the 1972 race?
MR. TERRIS: I think I was mildly, maybe even a little more than mildly in favor, of
MR. STEINBACH: And then McGovern wins the D.C. primary? I assume, I don’t know that.
MR. TERRIS: I’m trying to think about that.
– -201-
MR. STEINBACH: In any event, you end up being replaced by the group elected in 1972. So
you’re not around to be spied on by Richard Nixon?
MR. TERRIS: [Laughter] At least I hope not.
MR. STEINBACH: And then McGovern goes down for defeat, but you’re at least out of elected
D.C. politics at that point. Is that right?
MR. STEINBACH: But before that time, you start devoting considerable effort to something
called the Anacostia Assistance Corporation, which you helped found in
1968, and helped operate as executive director through 1969. Why don’t you
tell us about that experience?
MR. TERRIS: Well I didn’t really found it. The founders found me, and I was the first and
only Executive Director. So in a sense it kind of looks like I helped found it,
but I really didn’t. This was an idea of Katharine Graham’s and Pete
Quesada, who built L’Enfant Plaza. I was asked by these people and some
others, but these two are the only ones I ever met with. If they ever had
board meetings, I don’t remember them; I don’t think they occurred. But
they funded it, and they wanted to help Anacostia after the riots. They’d
bring in small businesses to Anacostia and some housing, that kind of thing.
So I worked on it, it wasn’t that long. The founders didn’t have that deep an
interest. I think they somehow felt, this was easy stuff. Somebody came
along and gave them some resources, what have you, that this would be fairly
easy to do, wouldn’t take any time to get it started and rolling. That isn’t the
way things in community organizing go. People in Anacostia, naturally, had
– -202-
their own ideas about things. So you go to a meeting and everything doesn’t
go right, people don’t say, oh now we’re finished with this meeting, we’ve
now decided A, B, C, and D, and we’ll get that all done in the next month.
That isn’t the way it goes, and so it went very, very slowly. I drafted up
papers for a community development corporation which could get funding
from the Small Business Administration. I don’t remember whether we got
funding or we didn’t, but after a relatively short period of time, Graham and
Quesada decided they didn’t want to continue, and that was the end of that.
MR. STEINBACH: What was the grand vision had everything gone well?
MR. TERRIS: At that time, there was almost nothing in the way of grocery stores in
Anacostia, there were all kinds of deficiencies in what kinds of businesses
were available to people, what kind of housing was available. It was a little
bit like Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York where Robert Kennedy had a lot to
do, as it happens, with all kinds of development that occurred there in the
1960s. So I think there was something of an idea that something similar to
that could be done.
MR. STEINBACH: A sweeping rehabilitation, urban renewal project for Anacostia.
MR. TERRIS: The wealthy people that were on this board I don’t think were really prepared
to put up substantial money.
MR. STEINBACH: Why would this sort of effort come from the private side rather than
government programs?
MR. TERRIS: The theory would be it would come from government but that the private
side would put money into the community so it could organize itself, that
– -203-
they could have a community organization that would have some authority
and then could come to the government and ask for things, and that I would
be paid to help the community to do that. The problem is that kind of thing is
just not quick. You don’t snap your fingers and that kind of thing happens.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you do on a daily basis in these months?
MR. TERRIS: I met with people out there, I drafted up proposals.
MR. STEINBACH: There’s a reference I’ve seen to the possibility of a community electronics
plant. Does that ring a bell?
MR. TERRIS: It rings a bell faintly. That was one of the ideas for bringing in businesses
that could employ workers.
MR. STEINBACH: So it’s a variety of efforts you’re engaged in to try to stimulate economic
development in the Anacostia community that ultimately dissipates for lack
of interest in funding by the people whose idea it originally was?
MR. TERRIS: Correct. The people who hung around my office, which was actually at
L’Enfant Plaza – one of the buildings had been built recently so part of it
hadn’t been rented, so I had an office in one of the unrented spaces on the
first floor. The two guys, interesting guys, that I’m bringing up because now
they’re of course very famous, the two young guys that hung around talking
to me sometimes [were] Katharine Graham’s son and now-Senator [Richard]
Blumenthal, who’s a friend of Katharine Graham’s son, and they used to
hang around talking to me some of the time. I don’t know what they were
supposed to be doing as a matter of gainful employment. They may have
still been in school.
– -204-
MR. STEINBACH: During this time period, there are several other related type efforts: the
Housing Development Corporation, you’re a co-founder of that. What is that
MR. TERRIS: That was the successor to Better Homes. We got money from the
government and from I think a foundation to get an executive director to do
further work on housing in the blocks that we did. Then we went to the City
and said you really ought to start a big corporation to do this kind of work,
and the City did that and got all these high-powered people, really very highpowered people, to be on the board. The top union official in town, some of
the top business people in town, all that kind of stuff. I was the secretary of
the corporation, and it then went to HUD and got a lot of money, and it had a
whole staff. Channing Phillips was the executive director, but they had a
very excellent professional who ran the professional side of it.
Unfortunately what we did is choose as our first project this very large
dilapidated building in Northwest called Clifton Terrace and put in large
sums of money into fixing that building up. It really just shows you how
tough this business is because there were big overruns, and then when the
people moved in – the problem of how you run these kinds of buildings is
enormously difficult. If you admit the people that most need it, the people
that are the poorest, have the most problems, you run a terrible risk that the
building is going to end up sociologically collapsing. If you go the other way
and take essentially middle class type people, lower middle class people, who
have jobs, then you say to yourself, they could probably get a place without
– -205-
us. Well this thing completely fell apart as a matter of sociology and what
kind of people were in the building, what kind of crime there was, and the
whole enterprise within a few years had died. It was not a success.
MR. STEINBACH: How about something called Project Share?
MR. TERRIS: Project Share was a different thing. That was an amazing thing. Jim
Gibbons, the guy with whom I had worked in the Shaw area of Washington,
had this idea. This guy was a charismatic guy, very charismatic, and he said
what we should do is we should raise money for low-income housing and we
should raise it by going door-to-door[. . .]. He put together – I participated,
but I was definitely not a moving force – he put together an organization on
one weekend to go door-to-door in the District of Columbia to raise money
for low-income housing. In one weekend, he raised $100,000. That
$100,000 was put into buying a building on Connecticut Avenue for lowincome elderly people, and the building was given to the District of
Columbia government. You can go to that building today. It’s on
Connecticut Avenue. A few years later, I’ve forgotten who it was, the
president – I think it was Clinton – came to that building to see the
remarkable thing that had been done there. Nobody invited Jim Gibbons to
come, a terrible thing. The project was entirely the work of a private person.
Isn’t that amazing?
MR. STEINBACH: People just giving people cash out their front doors?
MR. TERRIS: Isn’t that amazing, that $100,000 can be raised on one weekend? He put
together a whole organization.
– -206-
MR. STEINBACH: Anacostia Citizens and Merchants Board?
MR. TERRIS: Once Katharine Graham and her friends decided it wasn’t working, that was
pretty much the end of it.
MR. STEINBACH: One more: The District of Columbia Development Corporation, on which
you were a member of the Board and Secretary?
MR. TERRIS: That’s the housing one I was talking to you about a moment ago with a lot of
very important people.
MR. STEINBACH: So that’s a continuation of what originally was the Housing Development
Corporation project that you discussed.
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: So the Anacostia Assistance Corporation effort lasts slightly less than a year,
and then it looks like your next significant career involvement is with the
Center for Law and Social Policy.
MR. TERRIS: Right, except for the dates of that really start before the dates that you would
see on any resume of mine because for a year or so, a group of people met
together to talk about how to create that kind of an institution.
MR. STEINBACH: The Center for Law and Social Policy?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct. It was about six or eight people, met fairly regularly, I
believe Patricia Wald was one of those. But only two of us ended up once it
had been put together who were interested in making that our job, and that
was Charlie Halpern and myself.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you and Halpern do in helping to set up the Center Law and Social
– -207-
MR. TERRIS: Charlie had been a lawyer at Arnold & Porter. In fact, he was still a lawyer
at Arnold & Porter, and he wanted to practice public interest law, and so did
I. So the point of this group, was to set up a public interest law firm. This
was precisely the time when the Ford Foundation really began public interest
law in the United States. There had been what you’d have to call public
interest law firms before. The ACLU is really in many ways a public interest
law firm, a very big one. And the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is really a
public interest law firm too. But there was very little of it, and it wasn’t a
movement. There were those firms, maybe there were a couple of others.
The Sierra Club had a group of lawyers. So there were a couple of
[organizations] around the country. Nobody really thought through the idea
of public interest law – that you ought to have lawyers like this working in a
variety of different areas.
So this little group of people met to try to develop this idea, not for the
country, but for ourselves. The Ford Foundation was getting interested in
funding public interest law at this exact time, and so that was an obvious
place to go. We had lots of meetings with them. It turned out only two of us,
Charlie and myself, were interested in this as a job. The other people
dropped out. At least one practiced public interest law. One, Dan Fried,
went up and started the Vera Institute up in New York. But anyway, just the
two of us stayed. Then we went and recruited, I think, three other lawyers.
We got a foundation grant from the Ford Foundation. Charlie was really the
person more than I who raised money. I hate raising money.
– -208-
I wasn’t the head of it, and I don’t even remember what the head was
called, but I directed the educational program. The educational program was
very interesting because we went to major law schools in the country, and we
said to the law schools, why don’t you let us educate your students for a
semester of their second year. They’ll come practice law with us, and they
will get as good an education during that semester as if they were with you.
Several good law schools, I believe Yale, Stanford, Pennsylvania, and maybe
Michigan, agreed. My alma mater, Harvard, said no [laughter]. I’m sure
they didn’t believe we could educate their students as well as Harvard. So I
directed that program.
MR. STEINBACH: This must have been one of the first clinical experiences in law schools, now
very common, but at the time they weren’t.
MR. TERRIS: Right. You’re absolutely right. It was very uncommon at the time.
So that’s what I did for a couple of years, maybe just a year, year-and-a-half.
During that time, I did argue the case for Cesar Chavez, which I lost.
MR. STEINBACH: We’ll come back to that.
MR. TERRIS: Afterwards I was essentially forced out by the Ford Foundation.
MR. STEINBACH: How would you define a public interest law firm? It was a new beast back
then. These were not really around in the 1950s and 1960s. What is that?
MR. TERRIS: I’m glad you asked, as they say, because I gave a speech on that subject. The
Ford Foundation asked me to speak at a meeting on public interest law, and I
said to that group right at this time that that was a very misleading name. I
did not claim that I represented the public interest. There are two sides to
– -209-
litigation, and I’m not going to tell you that I’m always on the side of the
good guys. There’s a dispute about that, that’s what it’s about. Public
interest law, if the name has any meaning, it is people are getting represented
who don’t normally get represented in our legal system. That is in the public
MR. STEINBACH: So this is in a sense an extension of the Legal Services for the Poor?
MR. TERRIS: In a sense. Sometimes it is actually poor people. When I represented Cesar
Chavez’s union, they were poor people, but very frequently it’s not poor
people. When you do environmental litigation very frequently the main
people that are interested in it are middle class people.
MR. STEINBACH: So you established in effect a law firm, the Center for Law and Social Policy.
Suppose General Motors or General Electric comes to you and wants you to
take a case – do you turn them down because of who they are?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. Because they can get lawyers by themselves. By the way, we wouldn’t
even have a choice in that. The way the IRS set up the rules for receiving
money from charities, if we take in money from the Ford Foundation, we
would have had to represent General Motors for free, and even then, I think
we would have been in trouble.
MR. STEINBACH: So the clients you represented, you represented without charge?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: So how did the firm finance itself?
MR. TERRIS: Ford Foundation and other foundations.
MR. STEINBACH: So it was a charitable venture.
– -210-
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: Clients would come seeking your free legal services?
MR. TERRIS: To some degree. Sometimes we went out and analyzed a problem and then
went to somebody who was affected by that problem and said, “Would you
like us to handle a case for you that would help you solve this problem?”
MR. STEINBACH: How did the Center for Law and Social Policy decide which cases to take and
who to represent?
MR. TERRIS: It was based more on the interests of the particular people that we had.
Jim Mormon had worked in the Environmental Section of the Department of
Justice, so we chose him because we wanted to do environmental cases.
Geoff Cowan, who later went on to become the dean of the school of
communications (or a similar name) at UCLA, he worked on
communications-type cases – television and the like. Charlie and I basically,
I suppose, made the choices by choosing particular lawyers who had
particular interests, and then we talked it out among ourselves what kind of
things we were going to handle.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you yourself have any particular litigation niche during this time?
MR. TERRIS: Not really. I certainly was not an environmental lawyer. In fact there were
almost none in existence, but I wasn’t one of them. I guess you would say
that I cared about poverty-type programs. After all, I had the background of
doing organizing [in a poor neighborhood] and starting the Legal Services
program. The things I did, I represented Cesar Chavez. I also worked on
– -211-
problems at D.C. General Hospital. I guess my poverty interests led me into
that kind of an area.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us about the case where you represented Cesar Chavez [Bustos v. Saxbe,
419 U.S. 65 (1974)] .
MR. TERRIS: That’s one of the great disappointments of my legal career, that I lost that
case because Justice Douglas, of all people, wrote the majority opinion. It
really showed, I think, what a sloppy thinker he was. He basically always
decided cases straight from his political point of view, and I think he couldn’t
figure out where his political point of view should have led him. He
sympathized with the Mexican laborers who were coming into California and
therefore they shouldn’t be excluded. Well of course those Mexican laborers
were undermining the Grape Workers Union, and Cesar Chavez was
desperately trying to make that union viable so those people could get decent
wages and decent working conditions. I’ve always thought Justice Douglas
couldn’t completely figure out what his liberal position should have led him
MR. STEINBACH: It is a strange lineup in the Supreme Court. Justice Douglas along with four
quite conservative Justices. You picked up the votes even of Justice White
and Justice Blackmun. Okay, back up. How did the Center for Law and
Social Policy hook up with Cesar Chavez in the first place?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know the answer. I can’t remember anymore. I suspect we had a
connection. We were talking to people in legal services in California, and
they had some connection with the Grape Workers Union, so I think that’s
– -212-
probably how it happened, that they thought that we were better able to
handle the Supreme Court case. We hadn’t handled the case below, so I
think they must have felt we were better able to handle cases in the Supreme
MR. STEINBACH: Chavez and his union members are complaining about what and why?
MR. TERRIS: They’re complaining about – what’s happening is the country’s allowing
Mexican laborers to come into the country on a seasonal basis, and they’re
simply making it impossible for the Grape Workers Union to organize. If
you’ve got people that are ready to do that type of very hard labor at lower
wages, a union has got a bad problem.
MR. STEINBACH: So this is technically an interpretation of the U.S. immigration rules?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: So what’s your role on the case?
MR. TERRIS: I argued the case and handled the brief. I’m sure the students did a lot of the
brief writing.
MR. STEINBACH: What do you remember about the Supreme Court argument itself?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t remember it at all. That’s probably a protective device [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Then the decision by the Court – again on what appears to be a sort of
administrative law interpretation of the Immigration Act but really is dealing
with larger social policy questions.
MR. TERRIS: Right. The kind of thing that usually appeals to Justice Douglas a lot.
MR. STEINBACH: So you end up losing the case.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
– -213-
MR. STEINBACH: You said it’s one of the great disappointments of your legal career.
MR. TERRIS: Well to lose a case, to have Justice Douglas decide against you on a liberal
case, yeah, that’s a disappointment.
MR. STEINBACH: What you started to tell us before about the work you had done at the Center
for Law and Social Policy for D.C. General Hospital, what was that about?
MR. TERRIS: I can’t even remember anymore. I think the level of care that was given, but
I really can’t remember.
MR. STEINBACH: You represented a group of physicians, I believe. Then you also represented
others: American Public Health Association, National Council Senior
Citizens in a lawsuit against the FDA regarding ineffective drugs and trying
to get them off the market.
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember that either.
MR. STEINBACH: How about Ralph Nader, representing him in proceedings before the Federal
Trade Commission?
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember really doing it at the time that I was at the Center, but after
I went into private practice, I handled a number of hearings before the
Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission then was
involved in issuing various regulations in particular industries to protect
consumers. The chairman of the Commission was a very good guy named
Mike Pertschuk. It had a program that they would pay people that
represented organizations to come in and represent the consumer side. So I
handled a number of those kinds of cases. I think the ineffective drugs was
– -214-
such a one that occurred after I was in private practice, but I’m not sure of
the exact timing. I also did one involving the funeral industry.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us how you ended up leaving the Center for Law and Social Policy.
MR. TERRIS: The guy that handled all the public interest grants of the Ford Foundation
was named Sandy Jaffe. At that time, Congress had been stirred up to get
interested in the Ford Foundation’s public interest grants, that they were
being dished out by a bunch of liberals so therefore this is really politics.
Jaffe then came to me and said you either have to resign as chairman of the
Democratic Party or you have to leave the Center for Law and Social Policy.
So I said, well, I guess I’ll leave the Center for Law and Social Policy, and
I’ll set up my own public interest law firm. Not that I knew where I was
going to get any business [laughter]. In retrospect, I’ve got to think to myself
that must have been about the most stupid thing I’ve done in my life. And
sheer luck that it worked. Because I had not the slightest idea where I would
get any business.
MR. STEINBACH: It sounds like, on good terms you left your affiliation with the Center for Law
and Social Policy.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Which still exists.
MR. TERRIS: Correct. It’s shifted a little bit in the areas that it goes into. I also started at
that time – or at least was one of the major people in starting – the Alliance
for Public Justice, or [a name somewhat] close to that, that was going to be
– -215-
the lobbyist, so to speak, for public interest law. I was on the board at the
time, but that was not a paying [job].
MR. STEINBACH: So the next significant role in your career is to found your own law firm.
MR. TERRIS: Right. Me, by myself.
MR. STEINBACH: Your public interest law firm, which is a separate chapter which we’ll focus
on eventually. Today we’ve covered a whole range of experiences, from the
time you left the Solicitor General’s Office all in one way or another in
conjunction with public service, but in a short period of time. We’ve only
covered five or six years. Looking back now, what’s your reflections on that
part of your career?
MR. TERRIS: I guess I would have to say all of it was very interesting. Some of it was
creative, like the Center for Law and Social Policy. It’s not entirely me that
was creative, but a small group of people were creative. The start of the
Legal Services Program was obviously, I think, of great importance. It’s not
as if I did it; that was in the works. If Sargent Shriver hadn’t found Bruce
Terris, he would have found somebody else. But it’s still very rewarding to
have worked on something like that, that you know how important it is. And
I believe that sooner or later this country is going to properly fund lawyers
for poor people, both on the criminal and civil side. I believe that. I think
it’s inevitable. It’s so obviously unfair, unjust, that it will happen. So those
kinds of things are very satisfying.
MR. STEINBACH: Add to that the National Crime Commission and your work for both
Humphrey and Kennedy.
– -216-
MR. TERRIS: Right. What I did for Kennedy was very small bore, you know. I didn’t do
anything important for Robert Kennedy. He did some things important for
me, but I didn’t do really important things for him. If I go back to look at
that, I don’t, fortunately I have enough sense not to spend my time doing this,
if he hadn’t been assassinated, there’s a good chance my life could have been
entirely different. Entirely different. And from my personal standpoint I’m
not sad that my life went where it went. I’m very sad for the country and for
the Kennedy family, of course, but not for myself. I certainly would have
had a job in the federal government, and I think a very good one, and who
MR. STEINBACH: Our history certainly would have been very different.
MR. TERRIS: That’s a lot more important than what happened to me.
MR. STEINBACH: Well on that modest note, let’s leave it and go on next time to the chapter of
your own law firm, where we are presently sitting. So it must have been
successful to have lasted this long.
MR. TERRIS: That’s a complicated question. I think it’s successful. Legally, I think, it’s
successful. Financially, it would depend on what day you talk to me. I
believe when we first had our interview, that question would have been in
serious doubt. It’s not in doubt today.
MR. STEINBACH: I promise to come back on another good day [laughter]. Thank you, Bruce.
– -217-
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Thursday,
January 8, 2015. This is the fifth interview.
MR. STEINBACH: Good morning, Bruce.
MR. TERRIS: Good morning.
MR. STEINBACH: Today we’re going to talk primarily about the founding and development
over many subsequent years of your law firm, Terris, Pravlik & Millian,
which began in 1970 as the Law Offices of Bruce J. Terris, all by yourself.
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: You talked to us last time about when you left the Center for Law and Social
Policy in 1970 and the reasons why you decided to do that. What
alternatives did you explore in terms of career paths before you decided to
embark on hanging out your shingle?
MR. TERRIS: I really didn’t explore very much, and in retrospect, that doesn’t show a lot of
intelligence. I was in effect booted out of the Center for Law and Social
Policy by the Ford Foundation. I didn’t go around seeing whether anybody
would care to have me work for them. I wasn’t interested in a big law firm
or really any traditional law firm, and since I knew enough about what the
situation was in public interest law, I knew that there wasn’t a lot of
possibilities there, although I suppose I could have gone and asked NRDC,
– -218-
for example, whether they would like to hire somebody, but I didn’t. I really
didn’t even think about that very much. I basically thought that I could set
up a public interest law firm myself and that that would be very challenging
and a lot of fun to do.
MR. STEINBACH: At the time you were exploring that possibility, were there models out there?
Were there other public interest firms? Or was this something that was really
kind of new?
MR. TERRIS: There really aren’t many firms like ours even today, and there weren’t any, at
least that I knew of, then. You have to be a little careful when you make
kind of a broad statement like that. In some ways, lawyers who handle tort
cases, contingent fee cases, you could say they don’t charge their clients, and
they’re doing a public service, which I think they are. There are people
subsequently that have handled cases, like the tobacco cases, of course they
made a fortune doing it, but that doesn’t show they weren’t doing a public
service. There are some kinds of lawyers that serve what are largely
unrepresented portions of the public. The big difference between our firm
and the other firms is very few people have used the fee-shifting statutes
which allow you to get your attorneys’ fees from the defendant, and what’s
different about that, it’s much harder financially to do that. We know there
are thousands, tens of thousands, of lawyers in the country who handle
contingent fee cases, and some of them are not very successful, but some of
them are hugely successful, multi-millionaires. Financially, that’s a very
different kind of structure than ours and therefore attracts a different kind of
– -219-
person, I think. We can’t possibly make huge sums of money. It would have
to be some kind of miracle that I don’t know where it would come from, and
so this is a very different kind of thing. So when I went out, I was thinking
about fee-shifting cases, but I was also thinking about handling ordinary
cases for people in the District of Columbia. It turned out I did not – very
rarely have we had a case of that kind. I did have a case way back in the
beginning of a psychiatrist who had been fired, and I got his job back. But in
general, it’s been fee-shifting cases.
MR. STEINBACH: So let’s explore what that means. You defined it in part by explaining why
it’s not contingency fee. I think it would help to define why it’s not
pro bono, or maybe it is. What does the fee-shifting concept involve, back
then and even to this day?
MR. TERRIS: In general, in American law, unlike British law, in American law, the winner
of a lawsuit does not collect attorneys’ fees from the defendant. People pay
for their own lawyers, win or lose, and so that means that if you have a
person that has a case that may be very important to them, but you can’t
collect a large fee, then that person, if they’re of modest means, which most
people are, really can’t hire a lawyer in this country. Now if they’ve been
maimed in an automobile crash and they’ve got a good case against the
defendant who maimed the person, they can get a lawyer because you might
get a million dollars in a lawsuit, and a lawyer can get a third or 40%, and so
that’s very attractive. Fee-shifting statutes are mostly federal, most of them
are environmental – there are some others – [EEO cases and] disability cases
– -220-
under IDEA – there are some other statutes. If you lose, if you represent a
plaintiff and you lose, you get nothing. You lost the case, you don’t get any
attorneys’ fees. If you win the case, you can get reasonable attorneys’ fees,
market-rate attorneys’ fees, from the defendant. Well, that’s financially still
a very difficult problem because first of all, it’s very hard to win all your
cases, and you don’t get [more than] reasonable fees when you do win the
case, no matter how marvelously you win it, and so you’ve got to win an
awful big share of your cases, and you’ve got to be willing, even though
you’re getting reasonable rates for that case, it means looking at your practice
as a whole. You’re not going to make nearly as much money as what the
market would normally give to people who are just representing people on a
normal basis, who pay by the hour.
MR. STEINBACH: I take it there’s timing issues with the flow of funds because you’re not paid
until it’s over.
MR. TERRIS: Correct. Absolutely.
MR. STEINBACH: On the fee-shifting idea, is that something that had been reflected in federal
statutes? How far back does that go? 1960s, or what’s the genesis of that?
MR. TERRIS: It’s largely I think the 1960s, but I think if you looked you could probably
find a federal statute or two that goes back considerably further than that.
For example, the False Claims Act goes back further than that, and that’s not
in the environmental field, and you can get attorneys’ fees under that statute.
– -221-
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re leaving the Center for Law and Social Policy – which I guess I
should ask, did the Center for Law and Social Policy, had they pursued feeshifting-type litigation?
MR. TERRIS: Some of their litigation was fee-shifting because it was under environmental
statutes, or maybe some others as well, but it didn’t have to use fee-shifting
statutes because they were getting money from foundations, particularly the
Ford Foundation.
MR. STEINBACH: I guess I want to go back into your mindset in 1970. There’s not a lot of
models out there. This is not something that’s widely perceived as a way to
establish and run a law firm. Where does this idea come from, and how do
you have comfort that it might work?
MR. TERRIS: Part of the problem is looking from today, it doesn’t look like such a smart
idea in terms of finances. Somehow I thought that I could. I probably didn’t
really think I was going to have a totally public interest practice, there would
be something of a mix. But I thought I could attract public interest clients,
but I really didn’t know where exactly I was going to get them. It was very
fortuitous that almost immediately the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund
essentially decided to retain me for their most important environmental cases
anywhere in the United States during the next ten years. I had no idea that
was going to happen. A person who had been at the Center for Law and
Social Policy took over, became the head of the Legal Defense Fund, Jim
Moorman, and he thought I was a fairly good lawyer, so I started handling
really the most important environmental cases in the country.
– -222-
MR. STEINBACH: But you had decided to go the public interest law firm route on your own
before that was a possibility?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Go back and sort of walk through the logistics. You walk out the door of the
Center for Law and Social Policy. You need an office, a license, a telephone.
What did you do?
MR. TERRIS: That was solved fairly simply. I don’t know how exactly this happened, I
mean I don’t know how he knew that I was available. A person who had
been the Second Assistant to the Solicitor General when I was in the Solicitor
General’s Office, Phil Elman, a very fine lawyer, had been a commissioner
of the Federal Trade Commission, and he had left to set up his own practice.
He said, why don’t you come and we won’t have a partnership but come and
be with me and we’ll have a common secretary and a common office. So
that problem got solved really quite simply because he already had an office
and a secretary.
MR. STEINBACH: Where was your office?
MR. TERRIS: It was on Sunderland Place, just off New Hampshire Avenue.
MR. STEINBACH: So do you open – the two of you are there physically, but you’re by yourself
in terms of the structure of your practice – and you start that in 1970?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: I just want to follow up with one other sort of distinction. What is it that
differs from this model from what some people might call a pro bono
– -223-
MR. TERRIS: Presumably there’s nobody that has a pro bono practice entirely because the
only way you can do that is essentially have foundation funding. I suppose
NRDC in a sense is a pro bono practice. When they represent somebody,
they don’t charge them because they get money from members and
foundations and what have you. Pro bono mainly exists in law firms, like
very large law firms that of course charge corporate clients and similarly
wealthy clients, substantial amounts of money, and then do good work by
doing pro bono work for a small percentage of their total practice. But
obviously you can do that if your other clients are paying you very
substantial amounts of money.
MR. STEINBACH: I want to read you something you once said at a panel discussion that
concerned the report of something called the Ash Council, which goes back
to the Nixon Administration, and ultimately gets published in the
Administrative Law Review of the ABA. You said at the time:
“I want to make it clear that neither I nor any other so-called public
interest lawyer claims to represent the public interest. Instead,
attorneys who are sometimes labeled and sometimes even label
themselves as public interest lawyers represent people in our society
who are all too often without adequate legal representation,
consumers, the poor, environmental groups, and the like.”*

Terris, Bruce J. (panelist). “A Critique of the Agencies as Presently Constituted and of the
Council’s Recommendations for Realignment and Reorganization.” Administrative Law Review
23 (June 1971): 445-451.
– -224-
I wonder if you could elaborate on your thinking about what it means to be a
public interest lawyer.
MR. TERRIS: Those couple sentences do contain what I think is the heart of being a public
interest lawyer, and that is so many people in this country can’t afford legal
representation. And it’s not merely the poor; middle class people, even upper
middle-class people can’t – I can give you an example. We represented a
group of people in North Carolina where FedEx was going to have flights
going over their neighborhood at all hours of the day and night, almost
constantly. They thought this violated the National Environmental Policy
Act. They retained us to [bring a case]. Well this was I would say an upper
middle-class neighborhood. Those kinds of cases, even with us charging
very low rates, way below market rates, would cost a couple hundred
thousand dollars. It’s not easy even for an upper middle-class neighborhood
to raise a couple hundred thousand dollars. So unless you have a situation
where there’s fee-shifting and you can say there’s a good chance of winning,
they have trouble retaining a lawyer. NEPA doesn’t have a fee-shifting
provision. It’s one of the few environmental statutes that doesn’t have it.
And so we did handle that case. We didn’t win it. Essentially they ran out of
money, and we were doing it for free at the end, and that’s really the problem
in this country.
And so to go back to your question, what I think is in the public interest is
to represent people like that, not because they’re necessarily right in every
single situation. These are complicated issues. You can debate who was
– -225-
right, but what is certainly right is that their side of that discussion, of that
dispute, be represented.
MR. STEINBACH: Have there been people over the years who’ve been critical of you or sort of
given you flack over your use of the term “public interest” to explain what
you do? For instance, a businessperson would say, on the opposite side of
the issue from you, “I’m representing the public interest, why should you
claim that title?”
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember anybody ever saying it quite like that. I’ve actually been
the person who has tried to argue with people, and that article that you read is
part of that, saying to them, “don’t confuse this with ‘we’re on the right side
all the time.’” That is I think offensive to people, and it’s clearly not true,
and so we should be accurate about what we we’re doing. If we’re accurate
about what we’re doing, we’re representing people in legitimate cases that
don’t have representation, I have absolutely no problem with standing up to
anybody and saying, this is in the public interest. Even though you may be
right, Mr. Businessman, that in the argument that we’re having, the specific
argument, that your argument is correct, and my argument is not. But what
I’m doing to represent a very large number of people, is in the public interest.
I haven’t really heard people complain about that. We’ve certainly had a lot
of defendants complain about the cases we’ve brought.
MR. STEINBACH: This article I referred to is fascinating in other respects. Because you wrote it
almost five decades ago and so much of it still resonates. You make
reference in here, among other things, to the power of industry and big
– -226-
corporations and how all too often, if not inevitably, they act in their own
interest and not in the interest of consumers or the breathers of air or the
drinkers of water, as you put it. And you go on to say that business cannot be
expected to regulate itself.
MR. TERRIS: It’s not supposed to. The heart of this kind of thing is they’re really not
supposed to. In our society, they are supposed to be maximizing the money
they make. They’re supposed to be trying to be as efficient as they can.
They’re supposed to push that side of issues in our society. I don’t condemn
General Motors for trying to make as much money as possible by having the
best car and selling as many cars as it possibly can. But then somebody else
who represents the public has got to look over their shoulder and say, that’s
fine, but you’ve gone too far here in this particular instance.
MR. STEINBACH: Explain why that should be through litigation or the courts, as opposed to
through legislation.
MR. TERRIS: Well the start is legislation, because the courts don’t start from a blank sheet
of paper. They almost always start from legislation. Sometimes it’s common
law, but more often than not, it’s legislation. I thought you were going to ask
why isn’t it enough that we have government bureaucracies that are supposed
to do this. And the answer to that is that government bureaucracies are
extremely important to it, and I’d probably even have to say even more
important than private litigation. But bureaucracies often fail, and they often
fail for reasons that are well known to political scientists about how industry
– -227-
through its financial power, its ability to capture regulators. To rely entirely
on government bureaucracies is a bad mistake.
MR. STEINBACH: All of this is in the context of your comments on something called the Ash
Council. Do you remember what that was about and how you even got
involved in writing this?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t. Sorry, I don’t.
MR. STEINBACH: It’s somewhat off-topic, but one more statement you make in this article.
You say, in effect, it’s disconcerting that we’re even focusing on some of
these issues at a time when the country is still engaged in a horrible, immoral
war in Southeast Asia. And you wrote that in 1971, and it occurred to me
that we haven’t really covered in any of our previous interviews your sense
of the Vietnam War, to the extent you were opposed to it – what you said and
did – so now would be a good chance.
MR. TERRIS: I’m a little startled actually by that sentence. That sentence is stronger than I
remember my position as being. But I guess I must have come around to
that. I was much, in general I think, not as strong as that. I found the
Vietnam War a complicated issue. I think near the end, however, I think it
had gotten to that point where not much was being achieved and an awful lot
of harm was being done. But earlier on, how we got into it and how John
Kennedy first in small steps and Johnson in big steps got in, I did not find it
self-evident that that was something that was wrong to do. It certainly turned
out that way.
– -228-
MR. STEINBACH: By the time you wrote that, we’re in the third year of the Nixon
Administration with still no peace at hand.
MR. TERRIS: And not seemingly achieving anything and very large numbers of people
MR. STEINBACH: Okay, let’s go back then. You’ve moved into Sunderland Place, you’ve got
this idea, you somehow get the word out that you’re available, and you get
your first significant client, which is the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.
What did they want you to do, and what did you do?
MR. TERRIS: The first thing I did was they had a case in the Supreme Court, Sierra Club v.
Morton [405 U.S. 727 (1972)] that involved standing. It’s interesting that
we’re talking about standing because I have a very detailed article that I’m
now trying to pedal to law reviews, on the issue of how wrong the Supreme
Court is on standing. But in any event, that case was in the Supreme Court,
and it had been in my opinion and in the opinion of Jim Moorman, badly
handled in the lower courts – that the Sierra Club had taken the very broad
position that it had standing regardless of whether it had any members that
actually used the area that was going to be made into a ski resort. And so
Moorman wanted me to write – this would be improper today under the
Supreme Court rules – wanted me to write a brief on behalf of other national
environmental organizations, there were about five of them, explaining how
essentially the Sierra Club had standing but unfortunately they hadn’t argued
correctly in the District Court, and it ought to go back to the District Court,
because they did have lots of members that used these areas, that it was the
– -229-
perfect plaintiff. After all the reason it’s called the Sierra Club is because it
was started by John Muir in order to deal with the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
So anyway I wrote a very detailed brief on all the law of standing up to that
point, but I thought the most important thing I did was put a picture of the
area they were going to destroy on the front page, on the inside of the front
page of the brief. And the Supreme Court did remand, said that there wasn’t
standing the way it was litigated, but did remand it to the District Court, and
in the District Court the Sierra Club showed it did have members who used
the area. The developers abandoned the project, and that [beautiful] area is
still pristine.
MR. STEINBACH: As in the picture, still?
MR. TERRIS: That’s right.
MR. STEINBACH: So that’s the first significant assignment you had. We’re going to cover in
more detail your other environmental work and your other work in the law
firm, but I thought we should focus at least initially on your sense, looking
back, on how your firm has grown and evolved since 1970 when you started
out by yourself. How many partners or lawyers do you have now?
MR. TERRIS: We have a total of eleven lawyers.
MR. STEINBACH: And you have now been at this for almost 45 years?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: So big picture overview of looking back – the growth of your firm?
MR. TERRIS: We grew very, very slowly at the beginning. At the very beginning, I did all
the work myself. There was nobody else. I researched the briefs, wrote the
– -230-
briefs. And we did a lot of environmental work as I said. The Sierra Club,
wherever it had an important case, they basically gave it to me. I mean I
handled cases for them in California, Florida, all over the place. But I also
handled cases on appointment by the federal court, in the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals, criminal cases, several cases that involved
people with insanity defenses. Judge [David] Bazelon was then a very
prominent Court of Appeals judge, and he was very interested in that, but I
didn’t win any of those cases. I think I did open up some important issues,
but I think there’s just a limit to how far the courts are going to go in
recognizing defenses based on serious drug problems. So those weren’t
successful. But for that decade, that first decade, we basically handled feeshifting cases.
MR. STEINBACH: By yourself most of that decade?
MR. TERRIS: No. Within a few years I had one or two other people that were working with
me. They weren’t partners, but they were working for me. As I said before,
we handled mostly big environmental cases. Then in about the middle of that
period, NRDC lost one of its more prominent lawyers, so they took his case
load and gave it to me. I guess they didn’t have a replacement at the time.
Essentially – I don’t know if you want me to keep going through the basic
history, not the individual cases, but the basic history.
MR. STEINBACH: That would be very helpful.
MR. TERRIS: We were being paid by the hour during that period of time by the Sierra Club
and NRDC and a couple other national environmental organizations. So if
– -231-
money came in through fee-shifting, it would go back to them, not to us.
Well that, of course, meant we were at that point not really operating very
differently from any other law firm, we just had different type of cases and a
different type of client. But essentially we were doing work, being paid on
an hourly basis, and were being paid below market rates. We weren’t paying
our lawyers, including myself, market rates in the District of Columbia.
After that decade – this is rough obviously, there aren’t sharp lines here – we
were no longer getting cases from the big environmental organizations. They
thought – I’m not sure they were right – that it was cheaper for them to do it
themselves, even though they were paying us below market rates, and we
were getting very good results on some of our cases, a lot of our cases. But
they were doing what people sort of knee-jerk do, which is to say, gee, when
we write that $20,000 check to Terris, somehow that looks like an awful lot
of money, so gee, maybe we can hire somebody to do this kind of work. So
by the end of that decade, we were losing business.
NRDC started doing cases under the Federal Water Pollution Act, and
they said to us, you know, these look like really quite easy cases, you really
can bring a whole bunch of them at the same time. We got from them a
whole bunch of cases, and I’ve forgotten how many we brought all together,
something like 15 cases at the same time. And they had basically told us this
is really quite easy, these people will all settle, because the cases are set up in
a quite simple way, they seem on the surface to be very simple – the
company reports to the EPA or to the state how much pollution they
– -232-
discharge, you take out their permit, you compare it to how much they
discharge, that’s it. They lose. They discharge 50, they’re allowed 30. You
win. Well, that’s one of the biggest jokes you can imagine. We took about
15 cases all at about one time, and we said to ourselves, one lawyer will be
able to handle this. Well that lawyer was overrun with the amount of work,
and the cases did not settle. They didn’t settle in part because we insisted we
were going to get adequate penalties. We weren’t going to just get
injunctions. The statute provides for penalties, and we started applying the
criteria that EPA said you’re supposed to apply. So ultimately we got some
very good settlements. We got one $10 million settlement and some other
results of that kind. But these cases went on and on and on, and instead of
having one lawyer working on them, we had half the law firm working on
them. So that’s when we shifted.
We also would handle some cases for groups of people. I earlier talked
about the airport case in North Carolina. And we handled some of the
environmental cases for groups of citizens. We had a very interesting one
about the Helen Hayes Theatre in New York. We handled Water Act cases
for a considerable period of time, and a large number of them, close to 100,
all over the eastern part of the United States. Then we’ve gone on in more
recent years to handle cases involving poverty issues and cases involving
toxic waste. And those are also very large cases. We’ve shifted when it
became harder to find good water quality cases, so that led us to be looking
for other things. So we have moved as the opportunities were available.
– -233-
MR. STEINBACH: You currently have eleven lawyers. What’s the largest number of lawyers
that your firm has had over the years?
MR. TERRIS: We actually now have in a sense I think thirteen, but in general we’ve never
gone over eleven, and that’s been dictated essentially by the size of this law
office, which we own. At the moment, we’ve gone to thirteen.
MR. STEINBACH: But unlike a lot of firms that were started in the 1970s, you resisted the
temptation to double and triple, etc., in size over the decades. Did you
consciously try to keep yourself this size?
MR. TERRIS: Partially. We certainly didn’t want to become a 100-lawyer law firm. I don’t
know if it would’ve even been possible. The risk for our kind of law firm, as
you get bigger and bigger, I think, multiplies. We wouldn’t have wanted to
do that anyway. We are a small group of people, we know each other well,
we get along very well. We wouldn’t want the bureaucracy. But the other
thing is literally the size of this building. So even if we got a case or
something that we needed more lawyers, we would have trouble how to
handle it.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’re in a room, let’s hypothesize, with other founding fathers of law
firms, and you’re all sharing experiences and commiserating and celebrating.
What would you say were the challenges, looking back, of running your own
law firm?
MR. TERRIS: The biggest challenge for our kind of firm is certainly financial. As you
noted earlier, the money comes in and it’s very delayed, it comes in in spurts.
We’ve had at least I think three times and maybe more, it might be four –
– -234-
three times where partners didn’t get paid for a substantial period of time. In
at least a couple of those occasions, it was very difficult to know when the
money was going to come in. We have borrowed substantial sums of money
at times, which certainly made my wife very nervous. So that’s been by far
the biggest challenge. It’s just very hard to run a law firm in which you have
a very limited number of cases. We don’t have many cases in this law firm.
We have eleven lawyers, and at the moment, we may have six, seven, eight
cases. That’s all we’ve got. And these are big cases. They’re complex
cases. Most people wouldn’t think a law firm like our size would handle
cases like this. Something else we’ve forgotten about in the discussion about
finance is that it not only requires lawyers, they also require very large
expenses, namely expert expenses. We’ve had up to a dozen experts in a
single case. We’ve had cases in which we’ve laid out a million dollars that
we paid to experts. So it’s not simply delay, it’s not simply that we
sometimes don’t win a case and therefore we lost everything. Sometimes we
win the case, and the company, even though it’s a Fortune 500 company,
goes bankrupt. So that’s overwhelmingly the problem we’ve had.
MR. STEINBACH: So finances first and second and foremost.
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: How about other aspects of running a law firm? What do you look for when
you hire lawyers?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think it’s very different than what anybody else would look for,
except we obviously are looking for people that care about public interest
– -235-
law. But that’s not a very hard thing to come by, because the people that are
going to apply here would be out of their minds to apply if they didn’t have
an awfully great interest in public interest law because they’re not going to
make the money that they’re going to make some other place. The people
that we get here are all people that certainly their credentials would allow
them to get a job in a big law firm in Washington. So if they come here,
unless there’s something wrong with their minds, they want to practice public
interest law. Other than that, we look very much for the same thing that
anybody else does.
MR. STEINBACH: So you have a pool and you select the best people you can from that. How
do you as a manager retain those people, keep them satisfied, so they don’t
go elsewhere?
MR. TERRIS: An awful lot of them have gone elsewhere. In recent years, it seems to have
changed, and now the people who come here seem to stay. But the basic
method of keeping people here, I think, is really a feeling that they’re the
kind of people who want to accomplish something, they want to feel good
about what they do, they don’t want to be protecting General Motors to go
back to that illustration from getting sued on safety defects. They’d rather be
on the other side of that fight. Whether or not General Motors ultimately is
right or is not right because that may be a very complicated question, but like
me, they’d rather be on the side of the small guy against the big guy. So
that’s certainly part of it.
– -236-
Another thing is that the kind of cases we handle are enormously
interesting. At least I think they are, and I think the people here think they
are. I don’t really deserve a lot of applause for what I do because, to me, I’ve
had the most fascinating law practice imaginable. It’s really been fantastic.
Every day when I come to work I look forward to it.
And the way we work here I think is also attractive to our young lawyers.
We don’t say to them, “We’d like you to do a 5-page memo and here’s the
topic.” Now this is all second-hand. I’ve never been in a big law firm, but
I’ve gotten it from other people. So they are given a 5-page memo and they
come back in three or four days and I give them something else to do. That
isn’t how we’re structured. We’re structured that we say to the newest
associate if we possibly can, “This is your case. It’s your case to think about
and to figure out what our strategy is and how we’re going to go about it and
how we’re going to win this case. We’ll give you all kinds of help. We’ll
have meetings, we’ll talk to you, we’ll go back-and-forth, but it’s your case.”
Otherwise you’re not going to be worth anything to us. You’re not going to
be creative if we just give you a little job to do and then you come back in a
few days and then we give you another job and another job. Now that isn’t
always true. Sometimes we have two or three people on a case, but then we
basically say to them, you two or three, it’s your case, and it’s not the
partner’s case. So there’s an enormous amount of interaction. I think it’s
very interesting to people the kind of work that they do. And even when
some of the work is intrinsically boring, like if you have to go through an
– -237-
awful lot of documents. You can’t always make that the most interesting
thing in the world, but I think basically the people here find this a very, very
challenging environment, and that overcomes that they are not making
$150,000 or $200,000 a year.
MR. STEINBACH: It’s a very, very competitive legal environment out there, as you know. How
do you distinguish yourself? How do you attract clients? How do you get
the word out that you exist and have this particular niche?
MR. TERRIS: Let me back up. When we were doing Water Act cases, we were finding
those cases ourselves and then we would go to environmental groups,
particularly Friends of the Earth, and say, do you want to bring this kind of
case? Or the American Canoe Association – they basically would want to
bring any good clean water case. And since they weren’t paying any money,
they said terrific, great for us. We get a lot of publicity, we do good for the
environment, etc. So that’s part of how we do it, we ourselves generate
cases, bring them to our people who have been clients with us for years and
years and years. However, we also are pretty well known, so there are
people who come to us. The Honeywell case up in New Jersey, they came to
us because they knew we’ve done a lot of work in New Jersey on water
cases. To me, the surprising thing isn’t that we get some cases. What’s
surprising to me is our doors don’t get knocked down doing cases because
we’re known everyplace. In the old days, we did get cases like that. When
we started there were no environmental lawyers in the country. Essentially
there were none. Probably a year after I started out, I was one of the more
– -238-
experienced environmental lawyers in the country. Today half the lawyers in
the country took Environmental Law courses in law school, and they would
love to handle one environmental case on what they would regard as the
good guy’s side. So there’s people out there all over the place that would be
willing to do it for free. Well, we can’t do it for free. So we don’t get as
much of that kind of traffic that I wish we did.
MR. STEINBACH: In terms of being the managing and founding partner of this firm, how hard is
it to – all the stuff you have to deal with like staff and property regulations
and taxes and employment rules. How do you learn all that and how
challenging has that been?
MR. TERRIS: For the most part, I don’t handle it. We’ve had good office managers. We
have a good accountant, an accounting firm, that does our taxes and directs
the office manager how to do the books in the correct way. Those things are
brought to myself and my two partners in a fashion that is pretty focused. In
other words, it isn’t that I have to go out and I have to do all these things.
It’s brought to us in a way that the issues are fairly clear and we can make
decisions without being an expert in all those fields that you said. And now
we have an administrator who’s also technologically very, very good, which
today is the biggest headache. Taxes, staff, and all that is minor in
comparison to have your computer system operate, because somehow it
always seems that it isn’t operating, and I’m an idiot on these things. I think
one can basically assume that given my age. So that’s the biggest problem
– -239-
MR. STEINBACH: A couple other general questions about your practice here over the years.
Has your firm ever done any defense work or considered doing defense
MR. TERRIS: You mean in the environmental field?
MR. STEINBACH: You’re representing the corporation, you’re representing what you would say
is not the “public interest” plaintiff.
MR. TERRIS: No. But that’s an interesting question that you’ve asked. Years ago, I mean
really a lot of years ago, I read in one of the legal newspapers that there was a
lot of agitation among general counsels of big corporations that they were
being overcharged and not getting as good service as they should get from
their usual law firms, and I wrote the general counsels of several large
corporations. I said, why don’t you think about a different kind of law firm?
We wouldn’t have handled anti-environmental cases or something like that,
but we might have handled some neutral kind of things. Or even some
environmental things that would help them on the environmental side. I
never even got a response [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: So no business has ever reached out to you to be kind of like the angel on the
shoulder telling them how to do these things consistent with the laws?
MR. TERRIS: Never. And I think it’s quite clear from our relationships with defense
counsel over the years that this wall between us is absolute. And you see it
in individual cases – not always, but you see it in individual cases about
which they get very worked up. Some of the defendants and counsel get
– -240-
very, very worked up. I just think they regard [our work] as it’s almost unAmerican.
MR. STEINBACH: To do what you do.
MR. TERRIS: That’s right [laughter]. Something almost morally wrong is involved here,
something really fundamental.
MR. STEINBACH: Looking back again over the past forty-plus years, have you ever thought of
leaving, doing something different?
MR. TERRIS: Never. I should be a little more clear about that. Definitely nothing except
for public service, and years ago I was approached – when would this have
been? – in the Carter Administration, I think, people asking me what kind of
a job would I be interested in. But the jobs that I was interested in were so
high that I didn’t really expect anybody was going to bite. And then years
ago also I got a request, do I want to put in some kind of paperwork for a
district court judgeship? – which I did not do because I didn’t think, at that
point at least, I was qualified to be a district court judge. I thought I was
qualified to be a court of appeals judge, but not a district court judge. Today
that wouldn’t be true, but at that time it was true.
MR. STEINBACH: So other than the possibility of a significant job in an administration or some
judicial appointment, you never thought about being a different type of
– -241-
MR. TERRIS: No. Never. It really goes back to what I said before. This law practice, from
my standpoint, is the most fascinating law practice I can even imagine. The
kind of meetings we have, when we think about strategy and how we’re
going to go about doing things, is so challenging to me and so interesting
about how to do it. And then I get a good feeling obviously about the things
we do. But even aside from the good feeling about the things we do, just the
mechanics of law practice, it’s been terrific.
MR. STEINBACH: There’s a lot of lawyers who have been practicing for decades who when you
get them over a beer will say, practice isn’t as fun as it used to be; it’s far
more cumbersome; it’s not nearly as exciting; it’s much more bureaucratic;
it’s hard to deal with clients; etc. Do you share the views that life as a lawyer
has gotten worse, or do you feel differently?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t feel that at all. I don’t feel it in the slightest.
MR. STEINBACH: You’re just as excited and happy doing what you do as in 1970?
MR. TERRIS: Absolutely.
MR. STEINBACH: That’s great.
You founded your firm with enormous experience in matters such as the role
of the police, community relations, one man, one vote, even national security
issues. Did you ever think that you would end up spending so much of your
practice as an environmental lawyer?
MR. TERRIS: I would have thought it was crazy. But you know, it’s particularly so
because there wasn’t really an environmental field when I went to law school
or up until virtually the same time as this law firm got established. There
– -242-
essentially were no environmental lawyers. The Ford Foundation deserves a
tremendous amount of credit for this. Around 1970 when it started funding
NRDC and started funding other kinds of people in the country and the
Environmental Defense Fund was getting started at that time. That was
really the beginning of real environmental law in the country, so it would
have been impossible for me to have dreamt about it before that time.
But people would say I’m really not an environmentalist. Most of the
people in this field I think are people that go out and they hike and they put
up tents overnight and they do all those kinds of things. I don’t do that, never
have. I can remember when I was a teenager at the camp I attended, I
paddled around in a canoe for a few hours and that kind of thing, but the only
thing that I’ve ever done that environmentalists might recognize as a core
environmental-type activity was when a group of people retained our firm to
fight about the High Ross Dam in the State of Washington. They said, you
can’t represent us unless you come and see this magnificent area where they
want to build this dam, and so they said you have to go out there. Well, the
dam, this magnificent area, was not on a road. It was a two-day, three-day
hike into the mountains of Washington. My wife came along and her knees
have never been the same since that time because she’s certainly also not a
real environmentalist. My knees didn’t get hurt by it, but it was all I could
take, those three days. So, no. The answer I guess is a long-winded answer
that says I couldn’t have dreamt that this is what I was going to spend much
of my life on.
– -243-
MR. STEINBACH: So the evolution of your environmental practice has been almost more
fortuitous than by design, I suppose?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, I think for the reasons I said earlier, we move from one type of case to
another kind of case, we went to where the opportunities were. But I’m also
very interested in other kinds of things. I’m very interested in poverty law,
so we started doing a lot of that kind of work.
MR. STEINBACH: You’ve told us that your clients in the environmental field included the Sierra
Club, the NRDC – National Resource Defense Council – are there others that
come to mind?
MR. TERRIS: Friends of the Earth has probably been the biggest. American Canoe
Association, we represented them on a lot of water cases for years. For some
years we represented the National Wildlife Federation. So we’ve represented
most of, or at least a number of, the big environmental organizations, but
most of that’s been a long time ago. Some of the people we represent now
are national ones. The Sierra Club we do still represent in some things. But
we also now represent local environmental groups too.
MR. STEINBACH: How would you describe your firm’s expertise in the environmental area to a
perspective client?
MR. TERRIS: I would immodestly say: very close to total. If you look at our
environmental resume,*
which I guess is about thirty pages long, it’s got
lawsuits in almost every conceivable area. One area we have not [worked] is
the nuclear area. But just about every other kind of case you can imagine.

“Environmental, Preservation, Land-Use, and Zoning Matters Handled by Terris, Pravlik &
Millian, LLP.”
– -244-
Highways, power stations, refineries, toxic waste, air quality, water quality,
land use. On and on.
MR. STEINBACH: Right. I noted several dozen: historic preservation, land use, zoning,
Endangered Species Act, wetlands preservation, on and on and on. You must
be, for a firm, unique to have developed specialty and expertise in so many
areas of environmental law.
MR. TERRIS: I think the reason is that we can do a new area – if somebody brought us a
new area, we would know how to go about it. In other words, we might not –
if somebody brought us a new thing, we might not already have expertise in a
substantive way. But the methodology of handling an environmental case we
would know, and we would also know the underlying kinds of issues that
have come up again and again in different kinds of cases. Take standing or
exhaustion of administrative remedies and primary jurisdiction. There are a
whole bunch of basic kinds of issues that come up in all kinds of cases. It
doesn’t matter which kind of a case you’re talking about. So we have
expertise in an awful lot of those. But basically we know how to go about an
environmental case so that if somebody walked in the door today and said
here’s a new one, and you’ve never done one exactly like this before, and
we’d say, that’s right, we haven’t, but we know how to do it.
MR. STEINBACH: So you have environmental organizations as clients. Are there sometimes
individuals or citizens groups that you also represent in the environmental
– -245-
MR. STEINBACH: Describe those sorts of cases.
MR. TERRIS: I described earlier the North Carolina group. They got themselves together
and they were very worried that their neighborhood was going to be badly
hurt by planes constantly flying over it, so they got themselves together. We
represented them. Sometimes there’s an individual, not as often, but
occasionally, that comes to us. We’ve handled a number of cases for citizen
groups in different parts of the country. We have a case now in western
Pennsylvania that we represent local environmental groups.
MR. STEINBACH: What cases and results have you been proudest of – that you’ve worked on
that your firm has accomplished in this field?
MR. TERRIS: There’s one that doesn’t have a landmark decision but it was of enormous
importance. It was in the District Court in San Francisco and involved the
federally-owned roadless areas in the country that we wanted to tie up so that
they would have the potential to be designated for preservation. Once you
drive roads through wild areas, they really can’t be considered any longer for
preservation. In that case I can’t remember exactly how many acres it
involved but something like 30 or 40 million acres. It was an enormously
important case. We got an injunction that lasted for many years, and the
result was that much of this area has been preserved. It covered all kinds of
places in the West. In other words, it was not one given place; it covered all
kinds of roadless areas.
MR. STEINBACH: Was it Forest Service connected or other entities?
– -246-
MR. TERRIS: I can’t remember if it was all Forest Service or part of it. I think it was all
Forest Service.
MR. STEINBACH: Which ultimately led to I guess the promulgation of some roadless
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: In the Carter Administration, perhaps?
MR. TERRIS: I think that’s right, because it was back in the 1970s. And I remember one of
the more startling things in my practice. I went in to argue a temporary
restraining order in the morning. The judge said, “I’m going to decide
whether there’s going to be an injunction issued, not the temporary
restraining order, so you’ve got two hours for lunch and come back and you
argue.” So instead of having a little half an hour argument, it was a fourhour argument, and we got the injunction. So that’s one of the big successes.
Another big area was Sierra Club v. Fri [412 U.S. 451 (1973)].
MR. STEINBACH: Which ended up in the Supreme Court.
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct. And we won on a tie vote.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you argue?
MR. TERRIS: I argued that case. A very smart guy at the Sierra Club, the president of the
Sierra Club, came up with this idea, I have to give him credit – Larry Moss.
He brought the case to us to argue about how to protect the areas of the
country that had good air quality, not bad air quality. The statute had no
specific provisions to protect those areas. We developed a theory about how
it could be protected by the statute even though [the statute] was not specific
– -247-
on the subject. So that resulted in the law being that you couldn’t
significantly degrade clean air areas. It ended up with Congress having to
take action and passing legislation in that field that protected those areas,
which still exists. It’s still an important part of the Clean Air Act. So that
was very important. Then a case was brought to us about – these were all in
the 1970s; that was a time when we really were getting cases bringing
completely new issues and enormously important issues – this was a case that
involved clear-cutting in a national forest in West Virginia. We got a ruling
that you couldn’t clear-cut these kinds of areas. That so panicked the lumber
industry that that went to Congress, and although we didn’t get everything
we wanted, we got a [statute with a] substantial amount of protection against
clear-cutting in national forests throughout the whole country, which was
also extremely important.
MR. STEINBACH: It’s interesting in both the Sierra Club v. Fri case and the clear-cutting West
Virginia case that you’re doing cutting edge even in advance of legislation in
this area – that then Congress after the courts rule steps in and comes up with
some kind of [law]. That must have been exciting and fun.
MR. TERRIS: It was. I’m trying to think of those which were most important. Then, of
course, the Laidlaw case.
MR. STEINBACH: Before that, you actually, I think, argued Kleppe v. Sierra Club [427 U.S. 390
(1976)]. Did you argue that under NEPA in 1976?
MR. TERRIS: Okay, yes. A different Sierra Club case.
– -248-
MR. STEINBACH: Different Sierra Club than what you referred to earlier. To deal with
preparation of regional environmental impact statements.
MR. TERRIS: We’d been brought in to do a lot of work on what was then an enormous
effort to mine coal in the Great Plains states, particularly Montana and
Wyoming. They had low sulfur coal and the thought was that if an enormous
number of mines opened up, it was going to be, from an environmental point
of view, devastating to those areas. The issue was whether you were going to
get a comprehensive environmental impact statement that covered not just an
individual mine – these were mines that were going to be on federal
government land – that you had an overall environmental impact statement
which would evaluate the effect on this whole area of much of two states.
The government wasn’t willing to do it. We won it in the Court of Appeals.
The government took it to the Supreme Court and technically we lost;
however, to a substantial degree we actually won because what the Supreme
Court said about what had to be done pushed the law under NEPA quite
significantly towards looking at problems as a whole in a macro way and not
just looking at individual projects. So it was certainly not a complete defeat,
and that law continues to be good law today.
MR. STEINBACH: Then you started to mention your argument in Friends of the Earth v.
Laidlaw [528 U.S. 1967 (2000)], which is relatively recent, in 2000, in the
Supreme Court. Tell us about that.
MR. TERRIS: That case largely involved the law of standing, which is present in almost all
environmental cases. Virtually no defendant gets sued [in an environmental
– -249-
case] that doesn’t say that you don’t have standing. We took that through to
the Supreme Court. We won in the Supreme Court, and it’s one of the major
cases on standing. One of the few that’s actually been won in the Supreme
Court upholding standing. But it’s also a case in which we ended up not
getting paid because the company went bankrupt. I shouldn’t say we didn’t
get paid. I think we got paid $10,000 on a bill of over $1 million.
MR. STEINBACH: How would you summarize the holding of the Laidlaw case and why you
think it’s one of the more significant of the standing cases in the Supreme
MR. TERRIS: It certainly was very clearly important under all the environmental statutes
that deal with harm to individual people. It basically said that the harm that
was critical was to individuals and you didn’t have to prove environmental
harm itself – that the whole project was causing harm – that if you can show
that a particular person was harmed, then the representative of that person,
the organization, Sierra Club, had standing. It applied a proposition that I
would have said existed before Laidlaw. Obviously you don’t know a
proposition is controlling until you get a Supreme Court ruling, and certainly
Justice Scalia didn’t think that that was the law before. So that was very
important. And it also had a mootness issue in it that was important. It
reiterated prior Supreme Court law that a case is not moot unless there is
really no possibility that the harm is going to continue.
– -250-
MR. STEINBACH: The significance of Laidlaw is that it allows individuals who are affected by
action that has to do with the environment to bring a suit even if they can’t
establish or show overall harm to the environment? Is that right?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: Would you say that’s still valid standing law?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. That’s clearly the law today. Part of that really was not clearly
established before then. Most of the lower court cases did support it. The
most important thing about it was it clearly was more hospitable to
environmental standing, and so it’s had a very big influence on lower courts
quite outside of technically how big the change was. There have not been a
lot of standing cases lost in lower courts since then, environmental cases.
MR. STEINBACH: What’s prompted you to write a big law review article about standing even
MR. TERRIS: I’ve done a lot of thinking about standing. It’s not only Laidlaw, we’ve had a
lot of standing cases in lower courts, and it essentially dawned on me that the
law of standing has no constitutional support whatsoever, that it’s been made
up by the Supreme Court. They just made it up. You’d say to someone,
come on, that’s not possible. Where would you look to find support for
constitutional standing? You would look to the language of the Constitution,
that would be the first place you’d look. There’s nothing in the Constitution
that supports it. It says you can only bring a case or controversy. Well, these
are cases and controversies in ordinary English language, and there’s no
indication that those words meant something different 200 years ago. So
– -251-
then where else would you look? Let’s look at the English history. Well, a
number of distinguished scholars have looked at that history and have found
no support for it. Quite the opposite: there is some indication that England
allowed people to bring a lawsuit, individual people to bring lawsuits,
representing the public in a number of the different kinds of common law
writs of action. So then look at early American history. There’s nothing to
support it in early American history. So where did it come from? It came
from the Supreme Court, in roughly the last 100 years, it made it up. They
said this is required by the Constitution. It’s not a case or controversy unless
you have standing, but that’s circular. That doesn’t tell you where you got it
MR. STEINBACH: So Justice Terris would eliminate all standing requirements?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. But only in one sense, constitutional standing. The argument is
whether the Supreme Court has the right to make that decision or Congress
has. Congress of course can decide we don’t want to have these kinds of
cases in the federal courts, but in this other field, we think it’s so important
the public be able to bring lawsuits that we’re going to allow it. So in my
view, the standing people who think that they are cutting down on judicial
activism, have actually done the most judicially activist thing around by
saying, we decide this and Congress doesn’t, whereas the non-activist
proposition is to say this isn’t our job, jurisdiction, generally, is in the hands
of Congress and it’s also in the hands of Congress in this matter.
MR. STEINBACH: Fascinating. Has any Justice gone on record along these lines?
– -252-
MR. TERRIS: No. As far as I know, it’s never been presented to the Court.
MR. STEINBACH: Maybe we can race and get this transcript online before even a law journal
publishes and break some news [laughter].
Your firm has over the years I guess, I’m just generalizing here, won
consent decrees and injunctions and civil penalties in environmental matters
and has also received awards, you personally and your firm, for your
environmental practice. Reflections on that?
MR. TERRIS: Let me just talk about the penalties because one of the things you can do, the
statute basically says that the penalties go to the federal government. The
courts have allowed kind of an end run around this, and this by the way I
think annoys some defendants – that you can set up the penalty award so that
it doesn’t go to the federal government. It’s used for other environmental
purposes. We got a consent decree in New Jersey for $10 million, and we
used that $10 million to set up a foundation in New Jersey that gives out
money regularly for environmental causes. We don’t run it. We have
nothing to do with it, but it’s been set up with a lot of prominent people on
the board. We’ve also in other places gotten money and used it to buy land
that would be added to existing parks so it would also be kept for
environmental purposes, preserved for environmental purposes. So there
have been a number of those kinds of things that I think have been useful.
We got an award from the Hackensack Riverkeeper, which gave us a lifetime
achievement award, and then also the National Wildlife Federation was nice
– -253-
enough to give us an award. It is nice to have people think you do something
MR. STEINBACH: When we talked previously about the police issues you worked on in the
1960s and we reflected on recent events, the more things change, the more
things stay the same, I’m wondering if your reflections on the environmental
progress this country has made are somewhat different – that, in fact – I don’t
want to put words in your mouth – but looking back over the last 30 or 40
years, there’s been extraordinary progress, it would seem, in the
environmental field.
MR. TERRIS: I think you’re absolutely correct. We were talking about it a few moments
ago. There was no environmental movement of consequence. The Sierra
Club had existed for many years, of course, and there were other groups that
were important, but there wasn’t a real environmental movement. People
didn’t even really understand the danger to the environment up until roughly
the same time, a little before, our law firm was founded. So you didn’t have
courses in law school, you didn’t have environmental organizations, you
didn’t have bureaucracies in the federal and state governments that dealt with
this. That’s enormously changed. On the other hand, we now know the
dangers and the harm that’s caused is immensely greater than we probably
imagined in 1970. Climate change in itself – it’s no longer that we’re putting
a little bit too much pollution into the air and therefore that causes people to
get ill and even to die earlier than they should die. That’s certainly serious,
but it’s not like we are going to destroy the planet that human beings live on.
– -254-
It’s gone to a level of environmental danger that is immensely greater. And
when you see what the environmental problems of China, say, are today, you
realize what could have happened if we hadn’t started doing the things we
did in 1970 and earlier. So you’re absolutely right, and yet we probably feel
more threatened today than we did at the beginning.
MR. STEINBACH: As proud as you are of your contributions to the one person, one vote
outcome, you must be as equally proud of your contributions to the
environmental law field.
MR. TERRIS: I think that’s right.
MR. STEINBACH: Your firm has handled other matters, and I think where I want to go next is
the work you did on behalf of the women of the Foreign Service in the State
Department, which is an extraordinary tale of its own. Why don’t you tell us
about that matter?
MR. TERRIS: Very close to the beginning of the firm, we started doing work, and I’m not
sure what the sequence is, whether Alison Palmer came to us first or some
other people in the State Department came to us first. But in the 1970s we
handled a number of State Department individual cases, people with
individual problems. There was a Grievance Board and we fought for
[Foreign Service officers] to keep their jobs and that kind of thing. I can’t
remember now whether that was before Allison Palmer came to us or not, but
in any event, early in the 1970s, Allison Palmer came to us. She was a
Foreign Service officer, a very feisty woman, not a person who backs down.
Most people who litigate that’s true of. That’s one thing I’ve learned about
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clients in all kinds of fields that have come to us. They tend to be feisty
people, and she certainly was. She claimed the Foreign Service was not
treating her like they were treating male Foreign Service officers.
Her case started as an individual case but quickly became a class action
and not only for Foreign Service officers but also female Foreign Service
applicants, in a whole variety of different kinds of things – promotions,
evaluations, awards, on and on, a long sequence of things as to which we
claimed that female officers and applicants weren’t being fairly treated. It
was very complicated litigation, very lengthy litigation, which we lost in the
District Court and we appealed. And the case, lo and behold, came in front
of a panel of the Court of Appeals, that one of the judges was a person who
somehow keeps coming back into my life in a completely professional way:
Patricia Wald. She wrote the opinion reversing, and then it went back to the
District Court, and we ended up with a settlement in which all the substantive
things that the State Department was doing that were discriminatory were
remedied. We looked at statistics of all these things and made sure that they
were corrected. Then the individual women who had been discriminated
against in the past had a process in which they could get relief, benefits based
on what kind of discrimination had occurred to them. Ultimately I think the
whole case took over twenty years. I can’t say I’ve done an investigation of
the State Department in the last few years but I have some degree of
confidence that that problem is totally over. In the world we live in now, to
reinstate that kind of discrimination I think would be impossible.
– -256-
MR. STEINBACH: When I looked at Judge Wald’s opinion, one of its opening lines is, “This
class action began over ten years ago.” [Palmer v. Shultz, 815 F.2d 84 (D.C.
Cir. 1984)] And you just told us the whole thing took almost twenty years by
the time it was finished, which has got to be, from the perspective of running
a law firm, a big deal to jump into and to stay with for all that period of time.
MR. TERRIS: This particular case and the delay in getting attorneys’ fees had a huge
impact. This was the biggest case in terms not necessarily of importance,
although this was enormously important, but in terms of how much work we
put into it.
MR. STEINBACH: You identified I guess in the course of discovery in the lower court at least
seven different areas where the allegations were that women in the Foreign
Service were being disadvantaged, which must have taken enormous
amounts of effort to uncover through discovery and expert testimony, etc.
MR. TERRIS: Right. We were paying experts to analyze this material. We had expert
MR. STEINBACH: Then you’re developing several different types of legal claims that the facts
fit into under the employment discrimination laws at the time. Lots of this
strikes me as relatively new at the time, that this was a very significant
gender discrimination case.
MR. TERRIS: It was pretty early in the process. I won’t say there weren’t any other cases
at the time, but it was early.
MR. STEINBACH: Judge Wald wrote the opinion, but Robert Bork and Harold Greene were also
on the panel. Do you remember the argument?
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MR. TERRIS: It’s funny, I don’t remember arguments very well. I think I get so focused on
the argument that I don’t have very much distance. I don’t even remember
more recent arguments that well.
MR. STEINBACH: This is a matter that you personally handled most of the way through?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, but there were certainly associates. At the very beginning, I handled it
probably by myself because it came very close to the beginning of the firm.
But over the twenty years when we got more lawyers, there definitely were
other lawyers working on the case.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you take the leading role in writing the brief?
MR. TERRIS: The basic method that we use in this office, I haven’t written a major brief
for a long time. I am basically the editor and also an important part of the
strategy. I don’t want to say the strategist because as I said before, we like to
impose on lawyers involved in a case heavy responsibility for being the
strategist. But I’m certainly very heavily involved in the strategy.
MR. STEINBACH: And you argued in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals.
MR. STEINBACH: I noticed your firm to some extent served as, once there was a settlement, as
the monitor of court orders and consent decrees. Do you remember that?
MR. TERRIS: In the Palmer case?
MR. TERRIS: We definitely were doing that. We weren’t court ordered in the sense that
you have a monitor and then you get paid automatically for that kind of
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work. That kind of monitor doesn’t represent the plaintiffs. We were
representing the plaintiffs.
MR. STEINBACH: How significant was the victory in the Palmer case?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was enormously significant, but I’m sure some people would say,
and there’s certainly some truth to this, this was going to happen anyway. I
mean you probably won’t find any government agencies today that were
operating the way the State Department was operating when we sued them.
So you could say sooner or later this was going to get remedied. But it got
remedied I’m sure faster, considerably faster, and had a great benefit to the
women in the Foreign Service – and I think I would say to the country, to not
have a system in which you’re essentially not taking advantage of half the
people in the country in terms of their talents. So I think it’s an important
MR. STEINBACH: So wholly apart from the State Department itself, it’s a watershed moment
for all federal hiring with respect to women?
MR. TERRIS: I’m sure that people who were in personnel jobs in the government, I would
think, would have known about this case and it would be more of a push to
get these kinds of things remedied and not to continue the historic way that
women were treated.
MR. STEINBACH: Your firm has brought other employment-related litigation against other
federal agencies and private employers.
MR. TERRIS: Indeed. But those have been individual cases. They’re not cases that would
change the world.
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MR. STEINBACH: Not class actions like the Palmer decision was?
MR. TERRIS: Right.
MR. STEINBACH: Your firm has handled many other matters, but some others are worth
reflecting on. Your firm has handled a variety of civil rights cases. Any
recollections or reflections on any of those?
MR. TERRIS: It’s now a long time ago, and I don’t remember the details. We handled a
housing discrimination case a while back. We also represented the Black
Panthers for a period of time as to their troubles with the FBI. Unfortunately,
the funding source of that collapsed after a while. It was a difficult litigation.
We had a judge that wasn’t exactly favorable to that kind of a case. I would
call him a conservative judge.
MR. STEINBACH: What were your claims on behalf of the Black Panthers?
MR. TERRIS: Again, it’s a long time ago, but they were being spied upon and FBI people
were interfering with the things they were doing. The Panthers – large
numbers of people didn’t like them and didn’t like their views. The things
that we were representing them about were fully protected First Amendment
rights, and the FBI was interfering with them. I think by the year 2015, I
think people pretty well know the FBI wasn’t exactly following the
Constitution at that time on many of these things.
MR. STEINBACH: Your firm has recently been involved in litigation against the District of
Columbia regarding preschool special education. What’s that about?
MR. TERRIS: That’s a case under IDEA, the acronym, that the federal government requires
that the states, in return for getting a lot of money from the federal
– -260-
government, identify children that have disabilities, mental or physical
disabilities, and then evaluate them and come up with a specific plan as to a
remedy for those children. This lawsuit involved children 3 to 5-years-old so
they would be getting treatment, services at that time which would help them
so that by the time they got to school age they could ideally participate in the
regular school system. The District had the worst ratio in the country for
identifying such children. It identified approximately 3% of the total number
of children in the District as disabled. All the other States did better. Many
of those other states didn’t do well, but the District being entirely an urban
jurisdiction, and one with substantial amounts of poverty, would be expected
to have higher percentages than in other states.
We won that case in the District Court. It got reversed in the Court of
Appeals on the ground that the class definition was not done correctly.
We’re now back in the District Court for resolution, which I think will occur
in the next few months as to whether the District still violates IDEA. I feel
fairly confident there will be an injunction again. In the meantime, however,
I should say, because of our lawsuit in the District Court – the District
government said it was because of our lawsuit – the District has improved
very substantially. It’s no longer the worst in the country, so a very large
number of children are getting services that they would not have gotten.
MR. STEINBACH: You made the decision to take that case?
MR. STEINBACH: What motivated you to become active in that matter?
– -261-
MR. TERRIS: Because I think it’s important that disabled children get these kinds of
services. Otherwise they really run the very serious risk that they will not
develop to the limit of their capability. There’s lots of evidence that if you
get to these children early, that substantially increases their performance in
school and then later on in life. I think it’s a very important issue and one as
to which there was every possibility we could be successful. And the fact is
we have been successful on the merits of this. The District’s main interest I
think at the moment is to make sure they don’t pay our attorneys’ fees.
MR. STEINBACH: I ask because your firm’s resume has as one of its objectives to provide highquality legal representation to individuals and groups that cannot otherwise
afford such services. And it seems consistent throughout the past 45 years
that that’s what your firm has pledged to do.
MR. TERRIS: Nobody else could do this in the sense – one of the people that brought the
case to us was a lawyer, a very dedicated woman helping children of this
kind, but she’s an individual practitioner, and she didn’t have the resources to
bring a case of this kind, so we could do it. And of course we weren’t paid.
We paid for experts, and unfortunately under this statute, you don’t even get
recompense for those experts if you win, so this is going to come out of our
pocket regardless. But we felt we were in a position to do it.
MR. STEINBACH: It’s impossible to read a law firm resume and not ask about something
labeled, “Harris v. Florida Elections Candidacy Commission.” [122 F.
Supp.2d 1317 (N.D. Fla. 2000)]
– -262-
MR. TERRIS: Well, in Bush v. Gore [531 U.S. 98 (2000)], the main events we had nothing
to do with. We were involved in non-main events that had the potential to be
important. There had been a lawsuit brought about how the ballots of people
in the military were being treated. Somebody else had brought the lawsuit,
and then they felt they were overwhelmed because things were moving at an
incredible speed, and they asked if we wanted to handle the case. So we said
okay. There was nobody to pay for it, of course, and there wasn’t even a feeshifting statute. So we handled it. We went in a very short period of time to
the District Court, to the Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court – and I’ve
forgotten how many days we did this in, something like four or five. I think
there was a substantial issue to prevent the count going forward. I think the
one thing one can say definitely in the Gore, Bush dispute is it had little to do
with law and an awful lot to do with politics, and when the chips were down,
nobody was going to consider a new issue. Just like the outcome was
dictated by politics, that whether we had a good case or not, it was decided
on the basis of politics. But I might say that in the lower courts, every single
judge, all four judges we got, just happened to be Republicans and so we
didn’t get any breaks.
MR. STEINBACH: That must have been a whirlwind of events.
MR. TERRIS: It was. Because we were working all night. Half the office was here all
night getting these briefs out in no time. It was something.
MR. STEINBACH: Have I left out anything significant in focusing on the past decades of your
law firm?
– -263-
MR. TERRIS: Let me add a couple things. We’ve brought two big cases against the District
of Columbia on Medicaid, and one of them we won in the District Court.
Judge [Gladys] Kessler issued a very long detailed opinion of what was
wrong with the program. We’ve been monitoring her order ever since. I
forget how long that is, fifteen years or something. And there’ve been
substantial improvements; there’s no question about that. Although they still
haven’t complied with the court order; I should say the court order was
translated into a settlement. So that’s a major activity that we still are doing.
We also have another Medicaid case against the District in which we have
twice lost in the District court. It was reversed the first time, and now we’re
in the Court of Appeals again. It’ll be argued again in February, about
providing prescription drugs to people on Medicaid and telling them if the
drugs are not provided, that the pharmacy is required to say why, so the
Medicaid beneficiaries have the right to contest that. The District doesn’t
require an explanation and leaves people essentially defenseless when the
pharmacy on the instructions of the District doesn’t fill the prescription. So
that’s also an important case in the poverty field.
I should say one other thing about the cases we’ve handled in the
environmental field. We’ve brought a number of very big cases involving
toxic waste and the one that’s been completely resolved involved Honeywell
in Jersey City. We won that case. The result was Honeywell had to dig up
the same amount of material taken out of the 9/11 site, an enormous amount
of material, and that area is virtually restored now and will be developed.
– -264-
The recession in the country has slowed this down, but it will be developed
into a model area of Jersey City. There will also be an expansion of the
college there, and it will certainly have an enormous impact on Jersey City.
It’s a very large area, so that’s extremely important.
MR. STEINBACH: I’ll ask one final question. As a father you look back with pride over your
children’s lives. You must feel to some degree that way about the success of
your law firm?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I do. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, and I guess it shows you that there
are things that it’s better you don’t know about in advance or the
ramifications of them. You might have been too chicken to do them. And
the thing is if somebody came to me today and asked should I do this, I’d be
very hesitant to say yes – because part of what’s happened, I have to admit,
we’ve had some very good luck. Some very good luck. I think we’ve done a
good job, but I’m not sure we still would have been able to do this without
having very good luck. There were times we were very, very close to being
at the margin as to whether we just could continue, and suddenly we won a
case and got a lot of attorneys’ fees. The Palmer case was the first example.
MR. STEINBACH: But knowing what you know looking back, you’d do it again?
MR. TERRIS: Oh definitely. Now that I know I have the luck [laughter].
– -265-
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Friday,
January 16, 2015. This is the sixth interview.
MR. STEINBACH: Good morning, Bruce.
MR. TERRIS: Good morning.
MR. STEINBACH: Let me start with a very broad general question reflecting all the way back
on when you graduated from Harvard Law School in the 1950s until
today. If you had to do it all over again, would you be a lawyer?
MR. TERRIS: Absolutely.
MR. TERRIS: Well the first reason I think it’s very consistent with my personality. I’m
not saying by that every person ought to be thinking about becoming a
lawyer. I think it has a lot to do with personality, and I think for some
people that makes sense and for an awful lot of other people it doesn’t
make any sense at all. It doesn’t bother me to be in combat so to speak.
I’m a litigating lawyer, and that’s not all lawyers. I don’t think I would
like to write wills and plan estates and do a host of other things that
lawyers do all the time, give advice to corporations. But a litigator I think
is consistent with my personality. I’m combative. I enjoy matching my
– -266-
mind and ideas up against other people, trying to persuade judges and
what have you, so it fits with me.
MR. STEINBACH: You’ve also combined your legal skills and background with a public
interest approach throughout your career. Is there something about being
a lawyer that helps when you’re working inside the government or that
helps when you’re dealing with issues of social policy?
MR. TERRIS: I definitely think so. It obviously helps if you’re going to do litigation.
You have to be a lawyer to do that. But I think litigation is an effective
way to affect social policy, and I think you are right that that’s given me
considerable satisfaction for at least some portions of my career, like when
I worked for the Crime Commission. I was doing, I guess, what a lot of
lawyers do, which is to take policy positions and write memoranda and all
that kind of thing. I think lawyers are valuable in that situation too.
MR. STEINBACH: Suppose that you couldn’t have been a lawyer, that that was prohibited.
Have you ever thought back on alternative careers? Baseball player,
movie star?
MR. TERRIS: Oh, sure. Like every young guy, I would rather have been a baseball
player, but I was pretty far away from being a major league baseball
player. My baseball abilities were not exactly close to that line, or even to
be a high school baseball player. The other thing I really thought about, to
go seriously to your question, I seriously thought about becoming a doctor
and if I had, I would have practiced medicine with my father. That would
have been a wonderful thing to do because I had a tremendously close
– -267-
relationship with him and I had great admiration for him. I know he
contributed an awful lot to society, in quite a different way, and I certainly
would have enjoyed that. But I guess I was maybe overly influenced by
seeing that operation when I was a very young boy. As I’ve gotten older
and been thinking more seriously about that, I think it’s possible that I
could have gotten over it and enjoyed being a doctor.
MR. STEINBACH: I think on slightly different alternative paths we talked about that you had
explored, or at least for a year, you were a law school teacher and decided
not to pursue that. You had mentioned before something about becoming
a judge, that you had thought about that as a possibility. Why don’t you
explain a little more?
MR. TERRIS: I never really thought about it as a possibility because I’m not the kind of
person that lobbies to become a judge. I don’t know if there are people
who do that or not, but that’s not my style. But I did get an offer to
compete to be a judge – in other words, give the government some papers,
and I guess I would have been considered against 50 other people. But I
didn’t think it was the appropriate judgeship. At the time I did not think I
was adequately skilled in what happens in a trial court. I think I was then
and now adequately skilled for an appellate court, but that was never
offered or even suggested to me. But that’s one of those things that if out
of the blue somebody said I was going to be a judge and if it had been the
right kind of court, I would have taken that very seriously.
– -268-
The law school professor [job] I didn’t take terribly seriously.
Earlier in my career, when a couple of very good law schools indicated
interest in me, I hadn’t had any experience in teaching at that time, and it’s
conceivable that I would have accepted if it had been the right law school
and if it had been consistent with what my family situation was, and what
have you. Later on when I taught a year of law school – I think I may
have said earlier in our conversation together – I thought it was bad for the
soul. I was thinking actually after that session, because you’re a teacher, I
think it’s different teaching younger people [like you . . .]. But it just
didn’t seem right to me, these people who were in their 20s and I was
essentially manipulating the discussion – that I didn’t think it was really
good for me for a lifetime of doing that.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s not change your career. It’s been productive and spectacular
enough. So let’s imagine a nephew or niece of yours in college, or the son
or a daughter of a co-worker: “Mr. Terris, should I be a lawyer or not?
What would you advise me nowadays?”
MR. TERRIS: I would build on what I said a moment ago, which is what kind of person
are you, what kind of characteristics, and what do you want to do in law?
In other words, when you say “lawyer,” it’s too broad a subject. There’s a
tremendous difference as I indicated before between being a litigator and
being somebody who advises people on wills or handles divorces or
advises corporations or whatever. I think there’s enormous differences in
that kind of thing. And you also, I think you have to talk about what you
– -269-
want to do in life. Do you want to make $10 million, because that’s going
to tell you what kind of law you’re going to have to practice, and does that
fit with your ideas of what you want to do with your life? If you want to
be a grassroots activist helping poor people, you’re not going to make
$10 million, and on the other hand, you’re going to get some very
important benefits from doing that kind of work, and that may fit very well
with you. So I think it really depends very much on what people want to
do with their lives, what kind of ideas they have, social ideas, other kinds
of ideas, and their personalities.
MR. STEINBACH: There are some doctors out there who would say, “I had a great career but
medicine has really changed, it’s much more bureaucratic, don’t go into
medicine.” What are the challenges that a young lawyer, brand new to the
profession, faces that maybe you didn’t have to face?
MR. TERRIS: That’s a very difficult question. I don’t know exactly. I’m not sure that
that much fundamentally has changed. Maybe I’m wrong because I’m an
older lawyer, not a young lawyer, so maybe I just don’t really appreciate
the challenges of young lawyers. I mean lots of things have changed
obviously, but fundamentally, I mean the profession to me looks quite
similar to when I was coming out of law school. You can go into the
government, a variety of different kinds of government, particular kinds of
jobs. You can go into large law firms, and you’re going to make a lot
more money doing that than probably any other job in the law. You can
go out in private practice yourself, maybe prepare for it by being in
– -270-
government or in a large law firm for a few years, but then go out and
practice by yourself. You can to some degree go into public interest law,
although that is different. There was no such thing when I got out of law
school, a handful of jobs in the country, probably not anywhere near a
hundred jobs in the entire country. So that certainly has changed, and I
think people coming out of law school for a large number of lawyers ask
themselves the question whether that’s what they want to do. And an
awful lot more want to do it than can get jobs. So that certainly is a
change. I think other than that, the basic structure is not that different.
MR. STEINBACH: So your nephew or niece has gone to law school and they’ve graduated
and they come to you before they start their first day of work and say,
“Mr. Terris, I’m a lawyer, how do I get to be a really good lawyer? What
do I have to do?”
MR. TERRIS: I think the most important thing is to go to some place that, if you can, you
are going to get the practical education in law that you didn’t get in law
school. I know law schools now do much more practical education than
when I was in law school, lots of clinics and things like that, but I still
would stick to my point. There’s still a limit to how much practical
education you’re really getting in a law school environment. I think it’s
good that law schools do that, but I still think the most important thing is
when you come out of law school to go into a situation where there are
very good lawyers and there are lawyers who are willing to take time with
their junior people. Closely editing your work to allow you to learn to
– -271-
really write as a lawyer, which to a great degree you don’t learn in law
school. The kind of people that when they’re working on cases aren’t just
going to give you little pieces to go out and research and bring them back
and you aren’t going to participate really in the case. A kind of
atmosphere, whether it’s a law firm or government or wherever, where the
more senior people include the junior people in the discussions and the
strategy formulations. That’s where you really are going to get your
education. Law school, if it’s done anything for you, in my opinion, has
taught you to think as a lawyer. It sure changed my whole way of
thinking. But that doesn’t make you a lawyer. That makes you prepared
to become a lawyer. That’s what I’d be looking for, that kind of
atmosphere. Very good lawyers who are willing to include you in the
package, you’re not just doing drudge work.
MR. STEINBACH: To follow up on what you just said, law school changed the way you think
so that you ended up thinking like a lawyer. What does that mean to you?
MR. TERRIS: It means not mainly acquiring or spitting out information. It means being
able to analyze, that when somebody gives you a problem, that you can
analyze it. That covers not just analyzing legal issues, which law school
of course should acquaint you with how to do that, but that also is
transferrable to any kind of an issue. It first of all makes you a skeptic, it
ought to make you a skeptic about almost anything, so that you don’t just
say, “Oh, that’s what somebody said so that must be it.” You approach
every proposition as a skeptic. Certainly I do, and I think most good
– -272-
lawyers do. I was amazed in the first year of law school – it was like
getting hit in the head with a 2” x 4” – the way that I thought at Harvard
College, and I had done very well at Harvard College, didn’t make any
sense at all. At Harvard College they essentially asked me what are the
causes of the Civil War, and on an exam, I would write for three hours and
give them enormous amounts of information. But that’s what it was. It
was information. For the most part I was not really analytic.
MR. STEINBACH: So when a new, big case comes into your office and at any level of being a
lawyer, you’re in charge of trying to figure out what to do, how to staff the
case, how to manage the case, how to investigate the case. What are your
thoughts on how that should be approached, based on how you approached
questions like that?
MR. TERRIS: In many ways the most important thing are the facts, not the law.
Ultimately of course it’s got to be the law too but the facts are really
where you’ve got to start. You’ve got to start by really investigating as
deeply as you can what the facts of the case are. We had a meeting right
here, I was sitting in this same chair yesterday, in which we were
considering whether we were going to bring a particular lawsuit. We
discussed both facts and law, a memo had been prepared, a very detailed
memo, about at least a number of the legal issues that were involved. And
we hadn’t written such a memo on the facts, and it quickly became
apparent, which I didn’t find surprising, that the law was not the most
critical thing, that the most critical thing was, what do the facts show.
– -273-
And we would assign it, to go back to your question, we would assign it to
one of the young lawyers, and we would basically say, “this is your case,
now we may not bring it, but at this point, you ought to see this as your
case.” And the point I always make to young lawyers is: you’re not going
to do anything creatively if you think it’s my case. If it’s my case, you’re
going to give me a lot of facts, and you’re going to give me a lot of law,
and you’re not really going to have thought through what this is. So
you’ve got to assume this is your case, and should we bring it or should
we not bring it, and if we are going to bring it, what’s our strategy, and we
will talk that through together, and I hope I can make some contribution to
that. But you’re going to know more than I do at that point, you’re going
to have done the work, and I may have more experience than you, so I
hope I can contribute, but you’ve got to think of it in this way. That’s how
we really start.
MR. STEINBACH: I hesitate to ask this since I’ve been interviewing you, but how do you
approach interviewing a fact witness, someone who’s either cooperative or
hostile – how do you prepare for that?
MR. TERRIS: I learn as much as I can before I talk to the person, but frequently I don’t
know that much. It depends where in the case we’re at. If we’re early in
the case – I had a case fairly recently of a woman that has a potential
action against the federal government for discrimination, racial
discrimination, and she named I think four or five people that worked in
her same unit who were also African-Americans and said they would have
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the same view that she did. Well I got from her as much as I could about
her views about the racial discrimination, but I didn’t know a tremendous
amount about how these other people would talk, so I was starting fairly
early in the process. Very frequently what you’re doing is going to have
several interviews, obviously not if the person won’t talk to you or they
really have nothing to say, but if they really have something that’s useful.
You’re going to have several interviews, and you’ll gradually get deeper
in because you will have learned. First you talked to this person and then
you talk to three or four other people. Now you know an awful lot more,
so you really need to go back very frequently to the first person, and so
you go through this kind of process of deepening your understanding.
MR. STEINBACH: What’s your approach to preparing for trial? It’s two or three weeks
before a trial, do you hibernate in a hotel, do you carry on your normal
life? What do you do?
MR. TERRIS: In general, I don’t hibernate until right upon the trial, then that’s about all
I’m going to do. We frequently are litigating out of town so that works
rather well. There’s nothing else to do out of town but concentrate on the
trial. What you really should be doing, and I think normally we do a fairly
good job here doing this, is preparing way before that, preparing
thoroughly way before that. Because you’re going through stages – in the
kinds of cases that we have, we go through elaborate fact discovery over a
long period of time – we’re not talking about discovery over two or three
months; fact discovery may take six or nine months [or even longer].
– -275-
Then we are going through experts’ reports and expert discovery, and
we’re dealing with our own experts in tremendous detail. So we’re going
through each one of these phases in a tremendously intensive examination
of the case, so you’re sort of digging deeper and deeper at each level.
Very frequently, as far as the documents are concerned, you don’t
remember them anymore because you read them for the first time maybe
two years before trial, maybe even more. So you’ve got to go over all the
documents, or at least important documents, again. There’s no question
that in the few weeks before trial you’re in a much more intensive phase,
but you should have gone through these phases in a way that doesn’t leave
you in a sort of semi-panic at that point. You’re not doing a very good job
if that’s the situation.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’ve made it to trial and you’re arguing in front a jury.
MR. TERRIS: Almost never in this office in front of a jury. I think I may have been in
front of a jury in my career two or three times.
MR. STEINBACH: Interesting. What’s the most recent? Was it a while ago?
MR. TERRIS: A long time ago. At least twenty years ago, maybe thirty.
MR. STEINBACH: And that’s a function of the type of the practice that your firm has
MR. TERRIS: Exactly.
MR. STEINBACH: Are you happy with that, or do you wish you’d had more jury trials?
MR. TERRIS: That’s kind of hard for me to say. I don’t know that I’m the greatest jury
trial lawyer, partially because I haven’t done it very much, but also I think
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again a little bit is my personality, that I feel more comfortable trying to
persuade somebody who is a lawyer like I am and we presumably, to a
large degree, are thinking in the same kind of way. I don’t feel very
comfortable frequently dealing with lay people[. . .]. I don’t want to make
it sound like I’m denigrating jury lawyers, but it’s, you’re being clever,
you’re not exactly tricking people, but it’s not a pure “I’m convincing you
because my ideas are better than the other guy’s.” (I’m wrong, by the way
that it’s been that long, now that I’m thinking about it. It’s probably has
been ten years since I had a jury trial.)
MR. STEINBACH: I’m getting the sense that arguing in front of a judge is more intellectual,
and arguing in front of a jury is more emotional, argumentative?
MR. TERRIS: I think that’s right. As I say I’ve only done it a relatively small amount,
but what I read in the legal press, which has [articles] about how I won
that $500 million case in front of the jury with a whole sequence of tricks.
There are not too many tricks in front of a judge.
MR. STEINBACH: How do you prepare for arguing in front of a judge or a panel of judges?
Say you have an appellate argument next week, what would you do
between now and next week?
MR. TERRIS: I am not able, or at least I’m not willing, to go in front of judges without
having an oral argument in front of me.
MR. STEINBACH: Meaning a prepared script?
MR. TERRIS: A prepared script. In an appellate court these days, almost never could
you, even if you wanted to, give a prepared script. This is definitely a
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change in the way courts behave. When I came out of law school and did
arguments, you did a substantial portion of your argument the way you
want to give it. I happen to have an ability, which is a nice ability to have
– it’s not the most important ability, but it’s a nice ability to have – and
that is I can read an argument and most people will think I’m not reading.
But even so, it’s certainly desirable not to be doing that that much.
Occasionally I read, but it’s quite occasionally. When you’re actually in
court you don’t see this very often, of the lawyer not having the script in
front of him or her. Archibald Cox, and we’ll come to this later I think
when we talk about lawyers, who is certainly the best oral advocate I’ve
ever seen. I’m going to put aside Edward Bennett Williams because I only
saw him once, and he was terrific and he has a reputation of being terrific,
but Archibald Cox was a tremendous advocate, and he had a script that he
had written out. You didn’t get the feeling that he was reading, but he
often was.
But anyway I write out a script. I practice that script many times
to myself. I almost never have a moot court. I hate moot courts. They
scare me more than the argument. The argument doesn’t scare me, never
did. When I first went into the Supreme Court when I was 27, I was
scared momentarily for ten seconds, but the adrenaline goes after that and
I didn’t feel it, but moot courts make me nervous as all get-out. I’ve had a
couple of them. On Supreme Court arguments, Georgetown now likes to
have moot courts for people. I didn’t have enough nerve to say to them, “I
– -278-
don’t need your moot court.” So I did that. And I had a moot court over
at the Department of Justice on a case that they were interested in. That’s
what I do.
MR. STEINBACH: One more question that just occurred to me. How do you handle losing?
MR. TERRIS: That really depends. I’m not a good loser. I mean, I can’t say that I am a
good loser. I’m a very competitive person. I’m a very competitive person
when I play tennis, and I’m a very competitive person in my law practice.
But it does depend. When I was young and I lost a whole slew of cases in
the Supreme Court 5 to 4, it didn’t affect me a bit. Edward Bennett
Williams could have argued those cases or Archibald Cox, and they
wouldn’t have won. There was no more chance of winning than flying to
the moon. So there’s no sense in me getting all upset about this kind of
thing. It was inevitable.
On the other hand, the other extreme, I lost a case for a woman
who had a sex discrimination case – no, I guess it was disability
discrimination – and I really felt terrible because I was certain she was
right, and I thought she had been very badly treated by her employer, it
was an agency of the government, and I really felt terrible. So I consider
it’s an individual person who has been very badly affected, and the
environmental cases which of course you could say maybe are more
important than the individual person, although I say that with hesitation. I
feel badly. For one thing the economics of this office are badly affected
– -279-
by losing an environmental case but it doesn’t stick with me as long as the
case of the woman with the disability.
MR. STEINBACH: By now, Bruce, you’ve argued dozens of cases in the Supreme Court.
Have you appeared in front of most United States appellate courts across
the country, or at least many?
MR. TERRIS: Every one of them except for the Federal Circuit because we don’t
practice in that area of law.
MR. STEINBACH: And many district courts?
MR. TERRIS: Many district courts.
MR. STEINBACH: So over the course of your career you’ve seen many, many judges, good,
bad, and ugly. Reflect if you would on some of the judges who have
impressed you the most, who you’ve respected the most, and why.
MR. TERRIS: The judges who I know the most about are the Supreme Court Justices
who I argued before when I was in the Solicitor General’s Office. I say
that because, first of all, I appeared before them numerous times, each one
of them numerous times, and I saw a lot of arguments that other people in
the Solicitor General’s Office argued, and I read all the opinions from that
period. I don’t read all the opinions anymore. I read opinions if they have
something to do with our practice. So I knew an awful lot more about
those Justices than the subsequent ones – who many of them I’ve appeared
once or twice before, but really I don’t think it’s very fair to judge them on
one or two appearances.
– -280-
I’m also very hesitant. I think you always have to take it with a
considerable grain of salt, that you just don’t say all the good Justices are
the ones who voted for me, and all the bad ones are the people who were
on the other side. I really don’t feel that way. I guess the Justices who I
argued in front of in the early part of my career that I particularly admired,
probably most Justice Harlan because I believed, and I can’t prove this
proposition, but I believed many of the things he decided he would not
have decided in that way if he were in Congress. To me, that’s almost a
bottom line test of a fine Justice who isn’t just reflecting [his or her]
political opinions – that they’re really trying to base what their decisions
are on the law. Now of course they are affected by their other opinions,
there’s no way to avoid that. And they should be, so I would put him
probably number one. Felix Frankfurter of course was a great mind, and I
would certainly rate him highly. On the liberal side, whose vote I may
never have gotten, Justice Black was certainly a fine Justice. I thought
Potter Stewart was a very good Justice too. Maybe not quite as smart as
the very smartest of the other Justices, but certainly a smart man. And
certainly a man trying to find out what the right place for his vote was, that
it wasn’t just foreordained where he was going to come out. And I
thought Justice Brennan was a very good Justice. I do not think Justice
Douglas was a good Justice. I don’t think he paid much attention, at least
not at the point I was arguing in the Court. It may be that in an earlier part
of his Supreme Court career that he was different. I don’t think he paid
– -281-
much attention to the arguments, and I think he could have decided any
case that came to the Supreme Court probably within fifteen minutes after
a brief appearing on his desk. Most of the other Justices I don’t think, that
I argued in front of, were as smart as the people that I mentioned.
MR. STEINBACH: Try to distill and summarize what you just answered. What makes a great
Justice or a great judge? Or, if you had ended up being a judge or a
Justice, what would you have aspired to?
MR. TERRIS: I think you have got to be smart to be a Supreme Court Justice. These are
hard questions, they’re extremely important questions, and you obviously
have to be very smart. The harder thing, however – that you probably are
or you aren’t by the time you’ve become a Supreme Court Justice, you’re
not going to become too much smarter. The hard thing, I think, is the right
demeanor – how do you decide cases, how do you decide them so you’re
just not voting your political instincts? Because I think that’s wrong in so
many different ways, but maybe most importantly why it’s wrong is that
why should anybody have confidence in a judicial system if it thinks that
what the Justices, the highest level of the judicial system, are simply a
different place but still Congress, still politicians, voting their inclinations.
And that I think is enormously hard to do because, as I say, you can’t put
aside all your lifetime of ideas and just think all you’re doing is a
mechanical thing of interpreting words and statutes. It’s much more
complex, and it’s a very difficult thing to do, and I don’t think the
– -282-
Supreme Court as a whole does a very good job of that. Not a terrible job,
but not a very good job.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s build on those principles and put you on the Supreme Court in the
early 1960s, and along comes Bruce Terris and the Justice Department,
really pushing the envelope on one person, one vote. How would you
have decided that case?
MR. TERRIS: Hah! It’s very hard to answer, and the reason why it’s hard to answer is as
an advocate, I never really push myself the way you need to if you are a
judge push yourself to say, “How would you, Bruce Terris, really decide
this case?” You kind of edge yourself up to that, but you don’t quite get to
really forcing yourself to decide. In a way it’s kind of destructive to force
yourself to decide, because if you ever do convince yourself that you’re
not right, you really are undermining your creativity, your ability to argue,
so you really don’t do it, and I never really have tried to do it.
You can come back to this if you want to, to that exact question,
but let me give you a different example. I didn’t handle the sit-in cases
when they were in the Solicitor General’s Office. They were there when I
was there, and they were [intensively] discussed within the Solicitor
General’s Office, among us. I don’t mean with the Solicitor General, but
among the Assistants to the Solicitor General, we discussed them in great
detail. I had a lot of trouble with that case, and I believe enormously
strongly in civil rights, but I really had trouble with that case. The reason
I had trouble was, it seemed to me it was calling state action what people
– -283-
were doing in a private environment – that if that was state action when
the owner of the restaurant turned away Black potential patrons, why
wasn’t it state action if somebody in their house did exactly the same
thing? And isn’t that fundamentally inconsistent with democracy? Now if
you have a statute about the restaurant, which of course we fairly soon
thereafter did get such a statute, that’s different because that’s a judgment,
that’s not like my home or your home; it’s a judgment that that’s a public
place and it should be governed in a way that doesn’t allow for racial
discrimination. That in fact is what the Fourteenth Amendment was all
about. But in any event, that was a big, big problem for me at the time. It
didn’t matter what I thought because I wasn’t working on it anyway, but in
our discussions, elaborate discussions that we had within the Office. We
used to go to lunch at the Federal Trade Commission every day, virtually
everybody in the office, other than the Solicitor General, and that was a
major topic of conversation for quite a long time.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you want to circle back and any other thoughts on one person, one
MR. TERRIS: No. Partially because of these interviews, I looked at a couple of books
that I have that deal with the Solicitor General’s Office, a biography of
Archibald Cox, etc. It just occurred to me, it’s such an ironic thing,
Archibald Cox decided long after, later in his life, that this was the most
important thing that he did in the Solicitor General’s Office. This little
dinky guy Bruce Terris, that I really won this battle with him. Here’s this
– -284-
eminence of the law in this period, certainly one of the great lawyers, and
somehow I persuaded the guy who really decided, which was Robert
Kennedy, in a way that made the difference, kind of made me chuckle.
MR. STEINBACH: In fact, since we started the process of these interviews, there’s been an
important book by a scholar, J. Douglas Smith, called, On Democracy’s
which examines in great detail all of the litigation surrounding
one person, one vote and really does make you front and center as, if I can
say so, a hero – or the hero – of the argument. Have you had a chance to
look at Smith’s book, and what’s your reaction to it?
MR. TERRIS: My basic reaction is he probably gives me a little more credit than I
deserve, but overall, it’s a very competent book. The question of how
much credit you give to one person or another is pretty subjective, but it’s
a good book, and he was very intelligent when I talked to him.
MR. STEINBACH: In a sense it circles back to where we were a half hour ago about the
importance of an older lawyer listening to someone in the trenches who’s
really done the homework and is able to persuasively put forward a new
MR. TERRIS: I might say Robert Kennedy wasn’t the kind of person who would be a
mentor to lawyers, but he was definitely a man who would listen to other
people. I mean that was one of his most outstanding characteristics. He
would listen. He would have people come to his house – I wasn’t one of
them – great academics, people who were experts in the field, and just

Smith, J. Douglas. On Democracy’s Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court
Brought ‘One Person, One Vote’ to the United States. New York: Hill and Wang, 2014.
– -285-
simply talk to them. He welcomed people talking to him who were junior
lawyers in the Department.
MR. STEINBACH: We talked about judges. Any other judges you care to reflect on who we
may have omitted?
MR. TERRIS: Not Justices, but I certainly early in my career argued quite a bit in front of
the Court of Appeals in this Circuit. I really have argued pretty much
through my career in this Circuit, but particularly relatively early in my
career, maybe sort of mid-career. Certainly I had great admiration for
Judge [David] Bazelon, Skelly Wright, [Harold] Leventhal. They were
very fine judges. They were creative judges and smart.
MR. STEINBACH: I think it’s probably only fair since you’re still practicing law at a law firm
in town not to ask you for similar comments about currently sitting judges.
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct. Let me add one District Court judge. When Judge
[Charles] Richey was appointed, I was the chairman of the Democratic
Party and I went in front of the committee in Congress and I opposed him
on the ground that he didn’t live here and that this was essentially a court
supposedly for the District of Columbia, that is its jurisdiction. Later on I
had a major case in front of him, and first of all, he didn’t act at all hostile.
In fact he joked with me, about how I had opposed him. It involved the
development of Georgetown. He basically indicated that I was going to
win, and then the opinion came out, and I lost. And I don’t know how I
happened to be in front of him again, maybe it was another case or maybe
it was some further aspect of the Georgetown case. He said to me, “You
– -286-
know, Bruce, when you were in front of me, you totally convinced me, but
when I went back and thought about it when you weren’t around to make
your argument, I decided that you weren’t right.” And I thought to
myself, “that’s a pretty good judge.” I didn’t like losing, of course, but I
thought, that’s a pretty good judge.
MR. STEINBACH: Beyond judges, how about lawyers that you’ve either worked with or
worked against. Any come to mind? I know you’ve mentioned Archibald
Cox repeatedly. Any other colleagues or adversaries whom you look at
with great respect?
MR. TERRIS: The people in the Solicitor General’s Office were terrific lawyers. Let me
start one step earlier. The year I spent in the Internal Security Division at
the Department of Justice, there was a guy there, Phil Monahan, who, he
wasn’t even the Section Chief, but he edited all the briefs. And I think I
earlier said, I believe I said during these interviews, that he threw out [all
of my work]. None of my briefs ever appeared in print, but I learned an
enormous amount from him. And that’s when we talked a few minutes
ago about having a mentor or having somebody, whatever the name is,
that you can really learn from. I learned an enormous amount how to
write briefs from this man, because I looked over all the changes he’d
made – which were total, essentially, but I tried to figure out, why did he
do this? He obviously had a reason for what he was doing. [He’d]
completely toss it out rather than do little edits, so he taught me an
enormous amount.
– -287-
Then when I went to the Solicitor General’s Office, that was just a
marvelous place to work. I said before that we met every day at the
Federal Trade Commission. We talked about our cases. The people that
were there were enormously good lawyers. They were very good
advocates in the Supreme Court. Oscar Davis later was on the Court of
Claims. Phil Elman, who became a Federal Trade Commissioner. Lou
Claiborne, a tremendous advocate. Ralph Spritzer was also a great oral
advocate. Wayne Barnett, who was the most unbelievable mind on
dealing with tax law, he just used to regale us at lunch about tax law, some
particular tax case. For some reason he handled all the tax cases in the
Solicitor General’s Office at the time, and he’d go through it in detail
showing how this should come out. It was almost like it a language
beyond me, it was so precise as to how to do this. And I mean these
people, and there were of course others as well, it was a tremendous
education for me. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have these
lunches because basically that didn’t happen in editing briefs. The First
Assistant, Oscar Davis, didn’t come and talk to me and say, “here’s a
brief, now I want to talk to you about how you ought to do it.” It would
just be given to me, and I would edit it. Nobody would really even talk
about it. So I would basically make up my own mind as to where to go.
Now of course I was editing a good brief. These were coming out of
divisions, appellate sections of the various divisions of the Department,
– -288-
but still I wasn’t getting anything from conversation in meetings on
particular cases, but these lunches were just tremendously educational.
And then I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had very good lawyers as
partners here with me. They’ve taught me a lot too. I tend to be more
law-focused, and they tend to be a little bit more fact-focused, which I
think is a good corrective for me. That’s pretty well my view of lawyers.
To a considerable degree I think it’s hard to evaluate other lawyers, but for
the most part I’ve been disappointed with lawyers on the other side from
us. Given the kind of law firms we litigate against, you would think they
would generally be better. That’s obviously not every lawyer that’s on the
other side.
MR. STEINBACH: In reflecting on some of our previous discussions, it’s obvious that religion
seems to have played a very important part in your life, and your religious
path over your life has been far from ordinary. I wondered if you could
reflect on your religious thought and practice and how that’s developed.
MR. TERRIS: Yes, I think it has been enormously important to me, and it’s kind of
interwoven, I believe, in a complex way, that I’m not sure I can
completely understand myself, with my political and social views. I’ve
always been – let me start with the political and social views. I’ve always
been a liberal except for a very brief period, strangely enough, when I was
in college. I’m also kind of, as my wife keeps reminding me, if everybody
else is saying yes, I’m likely to say no. Of course everybody else when I
was going to college was a liberal Democrat and beating up Republicans
– -289-
daily, and so I was for a period of my life actually was sort of a
Republican. I actually did a small amount of work for Senator [Henry
Cabot Lodge, Jr.] when he was running against John Kennedy.
MR. STEINBACH: We can edit that out if you’d like [laughter].
MR. TERRIS: So that’s about the only period in my life that I had those kind of views,
and since I got to Washington and John Kennedy took over the
White House particularly, I’ve been a liberal Democrat. And I was as a
child too. I grew up in a community that was totally Republican, probably
weren’t a handful of Democrats in the entire city. So that really feeds to
my interest later on in trying to help poor people and what have you.
As far as religion was concerned, I grew up in a family that was
Jewish, but my parents at that time never went to synagogue. My mother
felt that she was duty-bound when I was I guess 12 years old to take me all
the way across town to a Reform synagogue. So for a year I went to
classes I think twice a week at the Reform synagogue, and they taught the
Hebrew alphabet. I think we got halfway through the Hebrew alphabet.
At that point Reform synagogues didn’t bar mitzvah people, when you’re
13, they confirmed them, and I was confirmed. And I paid very little
attention to being religiously Jewish, but my family was very Jewish. My
father, I joked, never said a sentence that didn’t have some Yiddish word
in it. That’s something of an exaggeration, but it isn’t too much of one,
and he was very, very strongly Jewish. My family went and visited Israel.
Not me, but my parents, and they gave money to Jewish causes, etc. My
– -290-
family some years would have a Pesach Seder, we’d go to the brothers or
sisters of my father, but there was no content.
When I was in high school and then in college, the two women that
I dated most seriously – girls at that point – they were the same age that I
was, were Catholic, and they took it seriously, and it was very impressive
to me that they took it seriously. And so in college I began to study, under
this young woman’s tutelage, Catholicism very seriously. And I ended up
a year after law school, I guess it wasn’t in college, it was in law school,
and the year after law school, I married her and I converted to
Catholicism, which infuriated my father, and he didn’t talk to me for two
or three years. We were married for almost twenty years, and I was a very
loyal Catholic, as was she, and I was quite a knowledgeable Catholic, I
read a lot, until totally suddenly she had an aneurism and died within a
day. We had adopted three children during that time period and they were
Catholic, but very near the end of that period, my allegiance to
Catholicism had begun to decline. It was always a kind of a little bit of
conflict within me because I also in a strange way still thought of myself
as Jewish.
In any event, she died, and then roughly a year later, I married
Sally Gillespie, who is my wife today. Some period after that, not terribly
long after that, I don’t know how long, a year or two or something like
that, she said to me, “You know, you are Jewish” – and I wasn’t at that
point doing anything more with Catholicism – “Why don’t you do
– -291-
something?” Sally Gillespie, as the name implies, is not Jewish, but she
wasn’t anything else either. She had been brought up as Episcopalian, I
guess, but she was definitely not Episcopalian. So I thought to myself,
“Well that’s an interesting idea.” So I started to read. I knew nothing
about Judaism. That’s the truth. Essentially nothing. So I began to read,
and then she and I went to some courses together, and then I started going
with my son to a kind of an activist-type of service, not Reform, and I did
that for two or three years, and then I gradually began to take on the
requirements of being an Orthodox Jew.
So I’ve basically been an Orthodox Jew now for almost 35 years.
And that got deeper and deeper. Then we decided, Sally and I decided, to
take a trip to Israel, and then she said to me, “Why don’t we move to
Israel?” I said, “now that’s an interesting idea.” So I went and tried to
figure out a way to get a job in Israel. Well I can’t speak Hebrew, and I’m
a terrible language student. I figured I really couldn’t get a job in Israel
that would be interesting to me, and so I said I’ll keep my job and I’ll
commute, and that’s what I did. We lived in Israel. But then a time came
when Sally decided that she had grandchildren here in Washington and it
was too tough to be away. So she moved back, and I continued to live in
our house in Jerusalem off and on, but I gradually cut that down to only
spending six weeks a year in Jerusalem.
So I’ve become really a very committed Orthodox Jew. I guess the
proof of that is Judaism really has two sets of holy documents. Most non-
– -292-
Jews don’t realize this. There’s the Bible, the Torah, but there’s also the
Talmud. There’s actually two related Talmuds, one is called the
Babylonian Talmud, which is where it was written by Jews in Babylonia,
and one is the Jerusalem Talmud, which was written by Jews in Israel. I
have gone through the entire Babylonian Talmud, which is approximately
sixty volumes, and I’m now half-way through the Jerusalem Talmud,
which is I think roughly forty volumes. So I’ve taken this very seriously.
And the connection with the law is – because I really think it’s connected
to what I have wanted to do in this world – I think basically I’ve been a
religious person that was looking for what I wanted to do.
MR. STEINBACH: Why do you say that? Because of an underlying search for justice?
Trying to improve your community? What is it that really explains that
last sentence for you, the combination of religion and your career?
MR. TERRIS: It isn’t a situation where a lot of people would say [. . .], I was a religious
person and my religion says look at these passages that say you should
care for the poor, as the Torah does, and so does the New Testament.
There are plenty of people who say, that’s why I’m concerned about the
poor. My history is not in that linear way because I didn’t know anything
about anything really at the time that I first started being interested in poor
people. But when I became a Catholic, there’s no question about it, I
became much more interested in social justice problems. My first wife
was a social worker, and she worked in one of the poorest areas of
Washington, and the work that I did in that area in housing and other
– -293-
things started out from that. You could almost say that the Catholic views
on poverty and how you deal with those problems had a great influence at
that point and helped push me further into the whole social action field.
And now that I’m an Orthodox Jew, I feel the same way based on the
Hebrew Bible.
MR. STEINBACH: In both respects, religion has almost propped up the beliefs that you came
to independently as to how to run your life?
MR. TERRIS: I think so. Right.
MR. STEINBACH: I don’t know if you’ll like to hear this or not, but if you reflect on the fact
you started in the Eisenhower Administration, that was eleven Presidents
MR. TERRIS: I have never thought of that. You said that to me before, and I thought to
myself, Wow.
MR. STEINBACH: Which is one-fourth of our country’s Presidents – so it’s not just a
distinguished career but a lengthy career, which I think gives you the right
to reflect and opine on progress the country has made or not in a number
of major areas that have been central to your career. So I’d be interested
in your reflections. Is the country better off? Worse off? What still needs
to be done? We can start with police practices and police community
MR. TERRIS: Can we start on a broader thing?
MR. STEINBACH: Absolutely.
– -294-
MR. TERRIS: On a broader level, obviously some things are very much improved. The
civil rights revolution was an enormously important thing for this country
and on this very central set of issues, the country was not living up, had
never lived up, to its principles, and that’s a very serious thing it seems to
me in a democracy, to have this huge gap between all these wonderful
documents that we have, back to the Declaration of Independence, and the
way our society is set up. And of course more true in the South, but it was
also very true in the North. Not in as clear-cut a way as in the South, but
still very, very serious problems, we weren’t living up to our principles.
So that’s been an enormous change and an enormous contribution. That
doesn’t mean those problems are all gone, because bringing up
police/community relations and what’s happened in the last six months
shows that these problems [still exist]. But now, I think you can almost
say that they are problems, serious problems, but the structure of dealing
with the problems is there to deal with them. Before the civil rights
revolution, the structure was totally inconsistent with even dealing with
the problems. I mean it was seen as a revolution, Brown v. Board of
Education was like a bombshell. I mean, today any changes we do in this
areas wouldn’t be a bombshell, it would be a way to deal with them in a
constructive way. So that’s I think enormously important.
I think in other ways the improvement is not nearly as great. We
certainly haven’t done a great job of dealing with poverty, and that’s
closely connected to the civil rights issues that still remain, they’re
– -295-
interwoven with those. Lyndon Johnson made I think a valiant effort to
get started. Not only did they only partially succeed – and they did
partially succeed – but now we’ve retreated. You can tell, the day you
hear a candidate for office in this country really talk about poor people
will be the day, because now what people talk about is middle-class
people. That’s considered a very liberal position, to be concerned about
the middle class.
And I think the politics today are very disappointing. I think what
I would call the deterioration of the Republican Party is very sad and very
dangerous for the country because we used to have two parties, they had
disagreements and that’s a good thing in a democracy, but they had a lot
of overlap too, so even if you had a Democratic administration or a
Republican administration, they could get things done. But today, it’s
almost impossible to get things done because people are acting like this is
war. I mean I read in this morning’s newspaper that many of the
Republicans in Congress are now very disappointed with their leadership
because they worked with the Democrats. They stake out the most
extreme positions, not thinking of how we’re going to get together. And
that’s just terrible in a democracy.
MR. STEINBACH: So overall great progress on civil rights, far less progress on poverty and
inequality and maybe the state of our politics. How about specifically on
the question of legal services for the poor and the elderly: Are we better,
are we worse? What’s left to be done?
– -296-
MR. TERRIS: I would say that we’re roughly the same as when the conference that I
helped run was finished, not that moment, but let’s say a year or two later
when money was already flowing. Essentially there hasn’t been
improvement, and I think that’s very disappointing because you would
think over this time period the country would have tried to figure out a
way to provide adequate legal services for the poor. Not just set up a very
good program and then starve it of funds so that most people who are poor
do not get legal services today. A program exists for them, but there are
not resources.
MR. STEINBACH: Taking you earlier in your career, the work you did for the Internal
Security Division on national security and free speech issues – reflect on
where you think we are now compared to where we were in the 1950s and
MR. TERRIS: Well we certainly are better off in the sense we don’t have anybody
comparable to Senator McCarthy, we don’t have the kind of panic in
Congress to be digging into all kinds of areas and thinking that there’s got
to be subversives out there and that even people that look like
distinguished Americans are really not distinguished Americans. We
really know better [than to think] that if we dig deep enough, we’ll find
that they once attended a meeting that there were five Communists at.
You know, that kind of thing is not going on today, and that’s certainly a
huge improvement, because then you can deal with these problems
– -297-
without having this layer of suspicion of each other. I see very little of
that around today, and I think that’s very good.
I don’t think it’s the fault of the country, but we have very serious
problems in the world, and those problems bleed into this country
domestically, not nearly in as an extreme a way as in Europe, but they do
here. You can find frequently in the newspaper a new investigation, a new
indictment, a new sentencing of somebody who has been convicted of
being a potential terrorist or for the most part they haven’t actually done
terrorist acts, but that’s what they were planning.
MR. STEINBACH: What’s your reflection on the state of environmental law?
MR. TERRIS: Of course that’s an enormous improvement. There wasn’t any essentially
then. There weren’t as serious problems either, but the problems were
building, and so if there hadn’t been important efforts to take care of them,
we would be in a horrible state today. We’d probably be in the same
situation as China, which is in horrible state in terms of the environment.
So that’s a huge improvement. On the other hand, the country’s ability –
inability – to deal with climate change is really scandalous. I mean a
country like this in which you have large numbers of important political
people thinking there is no climate change problem? They’ve got to be
the only people in the world who think that. And that’s terrible because of
how bad this problem is, but it’s also terrible in the sense of what kind of
leaders do we have that when 95% or more of scientists have come to a
particular conclusion, they, totally non-scientists, probably never even
– -298-
read one of these document, say “I don’t believe it.” That’s quite
MR. STEINBACH: Again, considerable progress reflecting over the course of your career in
the environmental field –
MR. TERRIS: That’s true, but we’re faced probably with a bigger environmental
problem than we or the world has ever faced.
MR. STEINBACH: How about reflections on the state of public interest law now, especially
compared to what you’ve seen over the years?
MR. TERRIS: Certainly again in comparison to when I came out of law school, there
essentially wasn’t any such thing. Now I don’t know how many public
interest law firms there are. There must be hundreds. There are so many,
when I read about one, I never heard of that one before. There it is, in
South Dakota. It’s amazing, and I think it’s wonderful. To me, a great
contribution, and they do represent a lot of interests in this country that
never got represented before.
MR. STEINBACH: One final area, which takes us back to where we started, the one person,
one vote decision. Reflecting on that, how important was that? How
much is our politics and democracy dependent on the results of that case?
MR. TERRIS: I think it’s almost unimaginable what would be today if that hadn’t
occurred. What I’m really saying to you is: it had to occur. If it hadn’t
occurred then, it had to occur ten years later, or it had to occur twenty
years later. It’s not possible that the country could continue in which
handfuls of people in rural areas would be in control of state legislatures
– -299-
or would be in control of the House of Representatives delegation from a
particular state. If you imagine it, it seems impossible to think that could
exist today – that you’d almost be approaching revolution if that occurred
today, because it would have gotten much worse. It wouldn’t have stayed.
It would have gotten much worse because population has continued to
flow from the rural areas into the cities. So it had to occur. But when I
say that, that doesn’t mean that those cases were unimportant, because if
they hadn’t come out that way, I think the turmoil on how to reach the
result by some other method would have been a very, very serious
problem for the country. Because if the Supreme Court had said no, the
Constitution doesn’t do any of this, this has nothing to do with the
Constitution, it has to be decided by all you politicians – I think there
would have had to be things done. But you can’t figure out really how
that would have been done, so I think it would have caused terrible
problems in how our democracy functioned from that point until now. So
I think the cases were enormously important, but not because you say
nothing would have happened in that field if the Supreme Court had come
out somewhere else.
MR. STEINBACH: When people are trying to figure out what to do in those cases, there was
an important note of caution from those who said, for 100-plus years after
the Fourteenth Amendment, we have not had one person, one vote, we’re
throwing out all this history. The Supreme Court, thanks in large measure
to you, threw out all that history and achieved this transformative change,
– -300-
with very little outcry. We’ve all come to just accept it as fair. Did that
surprise you? Does that surprise you? What does that say at bottom?
MR. TERRIS: That’s a very perceptive question because I can’t remember, and I think I
would remember, a single person bringing up what would be the reaction
in the country. Now it’s interesting why nobody brought it up and also
why it didn’t occur. I think your point is a very interesting point. It
certainly is an enormous contrast to, say, Brown v. Board of Education.
MR. STEINBACH: And active resistance.
MR. TERRIS: Right. And that is a very interesting question about why that is so. I
suppose part of it is because people basically said: this is fair. This is
really what our democracy demands, and it didn’t have the overtones of
race, which as we all know, goes deep into the soul of all kinds of people,
not just African-Americans, but Caucasians and how they really see
themselves in society, in a very fundamental way.
So one man, one vote appeared to be fair, but it still is curious.
Your point is an interesting one in that a lot of people were going to lose
political power and it was pretty obvious they were going to lose political
power. You didn’t have to be a terribly deep thinker to figure this out, and
it really went down without much problem. Redistricting occurred. There
were things people had to do, the politicians that were in office had to do
something – the wrong politicians were in office, but they had to do
redistricting. And somehow it was done. I think my answer is not a
completely persuasive one, but I haven’t got a better one.
– -301-
MR. STEINBACH: But it is a very under-appreciated example of how we as a people can do
the right thing – which is as good a place as any to stop, I suppose. Any
final thoughts, Bruce?
MR. TERRIS: No. I thank you for the time you spent on doing this. You’ve done a very,
very good job. I’ve had these interviews, and I don’t think I could come
anywhere near to the kind of job you’ve done and the preparation you’ve
done for the interviews. I’m very impressed, and I’m thankful for it.
MR. STEINBACH: Well thank you. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been intellectually fascinating
and wonderful to talk with you so informally for such a period of time. I
know the Historical Society is in your debt for sharing your recollections
with all of the legal community. So thank you, Bruce.
MR. TERRIS: Thank you.
1500 Block Club, 137
1968 Democratic Chicago Convention, 190

Abel, Rudolf, 79
ACLU, 207
Administrative Law Review, 223
black-on-black crimes, 151
effect of drugs on the community, 168
jobs for youths, 174
relationship with police, 148-150
youth programs, 170
Ahlstrom. Sydney, 60
Alliance for Legal Action v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 224, 232, 245
Alliance for Public Justice, 214-215
American Academy of Political Science, 159
American Bar Association, 108, 133, 135
American Canoe Association, 237, 243
American Public Health Association, 213
Anacostia Assistance Corporation, 201-202, 206
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 159
anti-Semitism, 44, 46
Arnold & Porter, 207
Ash Council, 223, 227
assassination of President John Kennedy, 20, 100, 104-105, 187
assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, 105, 187, 188
Babylonian Talmud, 292
Baker v. Carr, 1, 3, 4, 7-10, 92, 93
Barnett, Wayne, 87, 287
Baroni, Monsignor Geno, 194
Barry, Marion, 103, 194
Bazelon, Judge David, 69, 230, 285
Better Homes, 139, 204
Black, Justice Hugo, 123, 280
Black Panthers, 259
Blackmun, Justice Harry, 211
black-on-black crimes, 151
Blumenthal, Senator Richard, 203
Bolling v. Sharpe, 195
Bork, Judge Robert, 256
Boudin, Leonard, 118, 119, 122
Boudin, Judge Michael,
Brennan, Justice William, 280
briefs, 3, 8-9, 11, 13-15, 26, 29, 84, 87, 89, 113, 115, 119, 120, 229-230, 257
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 120
Cox, Archibald, 110-111
Bush v. Gore, 262
Grape Workers Union, 212
learning to write, 78
national environmental organizations, 228-230
Office of the Solicitor General, 109, 286-287
Supreme Court, 90, 110, 127
Brinton, Crane, 173
Brooklyn, New York, 162
Brown, Michael, 163
Brown v. Board of Education, 63, 93, 123, 196, 294, 300
Brownell, Attorney General Herbert, 92
Brownell Junior High School, 42, 53
Bush v. Gore, 262
Bustos v. Saxbe, 211

Cahn, Edgar, 108, 129
Cahn, Jean, 108, 129
Califano, Joseph (Joe), 178
Camper-Cahn, Jean, See Cahn, Jean
Carliner, David, 194
Carter Administration, 240, 246
Catania, David, 200
Center for Law and Social Policy, 125, 206, 208-215, 217, 221-222
Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, The, 147
Chavez, Cesar, 124, 183, 208-212
Chayes, Abram (Abe), 113
Civil Rights Act of 1964, 106, 169
Claiborne, Louis (Lou), 287
Clark, Justice Tom, 123
Clean Air Act, 247
Clifton Terrace, 204
Coalition of Conscience, 104, 194
civil rights, 103
home rule, 103
poverty issues, 103
Cobb, George, 57
Colegrove v. Green, 4
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 120
exaggerated threat, 81
infiltration, 77
subversive threat, 80
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 120
Community Relations Service, See Department of Justice, U.S.
Conference on Law and Poverty, 141
constitutional standing, 251
contingent fee cases, 218-219
Coughlin, Father Charles, 44
Cowan, Geoffrey, (Geoff), 210
Cox, Archibald, 22, 23-29, 89, 92, 93, 95, 104, 106, 110-111, 278, 283, 286
Harvard Law School influence, 19
Office of the Solicitor General, 1-12, 109
oral advocate, 4, 27, 87, 107, 116, 118, 277, 287
personality traits, 5
professor of Labor Law at Harvard, 68
Shriver, Sargent, 109, 129
Special Prosecutor, 108
Supreme Court
oral arguments, 12, 107
Cravath, Swaine & Moore, 75
Cuban Missile Crisis, 99

Davis, Oscar, 26, 84, 90, 91, 119, 287
Delaney, Paul, 193
Democratic Central Committee, 189, 197
Department of Justice, U. S.
Appellate Section, 22
Civil Rights Division, 22
Community Relations Service, 144, 169
Internal Security Division, 69, 70, 76, 83, 85
Depression, 42, 45
Detroit Free Press, 45
Detroit News, 45
Detroit, Michigan, 31
Briggs Stadium, 55
Dewey, Thomas, 50, 53
District of Columbia
D. C. General Hospital, 211, 213
District of Columbia Development Corporation, 206
Home Rule, 171, 194
preschool special education, 259
Douglas, Justice William, 124, 211, 289

Edelman, Marian Wright, 175
Eisenhower Administration, 3, 76, 92, 91, 93, 293
Elman, Phil, 90-91, 119, 287
Federal Trade Commission, 222
Elsinore, California, 47
Endangered Species Act, 244
Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), 231-232
expert witness expenses, 234, 256
False Claims Act, 220
Fauntroy, Walter, 103, 194
Federal Drug Administration (FDA), 213
Federal Housing Act, 139
Federal Water Pollution Act, 231
fee-shifting, 218, 220-221, 224, 230-231
Ferguson, Missouri, 162-163
Ford, Edsel, 34
Ford Foundation, 207-209, 214, 217, 221, 242
Foreign Agents Registration Act, 77
Foreign Service, 254
discrimination against women, 256
Fourteenth Amendment, 283, 299
Frankfurter, Justice Felix, 6, 9, 93, 120, 123, 124, 280
Fresno, California, 49
Freund, Paul, 69
Fried, Dan, 207
Friends of the Earth, 237, 243
Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw, 247-248
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 187
Georgetown Law School, 110, 134
Georgia Unit case, See Baker v. Carr
Gibbons, James (Jim), 138-139, 140, 205
Gibbons, Kathleen, 138
Gillespie, Sally (wife), 72, 290
Goldberg, Justice Arthur, 125
Gormley, Ken, 110
Graham, Katharine, 201
Grape Workers Union, 211, 212
Gray v. Sanders, 1, 10
Great Society, 106
War on Poverty, 131
Greenberg, Hank, 55
Greene, Judge Harold, 256
Griswold, Erwin
Dean of Harvard Law School, 118
Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 34, 50, 55
Snake Woods neighborhood, 37
restrictive covenants, 38
Guiliani, Rudolph, 152

Hackensack Riverkeeper, 252
Hall, Livingston, 67
Halpern, Charles, 125, 206
Hammer Field, Fresno, California, 49
Handlin, Oscar, 60
Hardin, Jane, 138
Harlan, Justice John Marshall, 18, 19, 123, 280
Harris v. Florida Elections Candidacy Commission, 261
Hart, Henry, 69
Harvard College, 56-60, 63, 84, 272
Ahlstrom. Sydney, 60
application, 57
Beard, Charles, 61
Brinton, Crane, 173
Finley, John, 58
foreign languages, 40
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 187
grades, 59-60
Handlin, Oscar, 60
history major, 60
Huntington, Samuel, 61
Merk, Frederick, 60
Phi Beta Kappa, 61
Schlesinger, Arthur Jr., 60
Schlesinger, Arthur Sr., 60
summa cum laude, 62
thesis, 60-61
Harvard Law School, 4, 6, 7, 19, 24, 68, 69, 75, 115, 126, 144, 208, 265
Chayes, Abram (Abe), 113
Cox, Archibald, 93, 107
experience, 65
Freund, Paul, 69
Griswold, Erwin, 118
Hall, Livingston, 67
Hart, Henry, 69
Harvard Law Review, 66
editor, 67
ideology, 6, 115
Kaplan, Benjamin, 66
Loss, Louis. 69
McCloskey, Robert, 64
Seavey, Warren, 66
Socratic method, 65
Head Start, 131, 132
Hechinger, John, 172, 193
Helen Hayes Theatre, 232
High Ross Dam, 242
Hoffa, Jimmy, 97, 183
Home Rule Committee, 194
Honeywell case, See Interfaith Community, et al v. Honeywell et al, 237
Honeywell International, Inc., 237, 263
Honors Program (DOJ), 70-76
House Un-American Activities Committee, 83, 119, 120, 122
Housing Development Corporation, 137, 139, 204, 206
Humphrey, Hubert
presidential campaign, 186
Vice President, 168
Huntington, Samuel, 61

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), 259, 260
Immigration and Naturalization Act, 119, 121
Interfaith Community, et al v. Honeywell, et al, 237
Internal Security Division (DOJ), 69, 70, 76, 83, 85

Jackson, Jessie, 151
Jaffe, Sanford (Sandy), 214
Jerusalem Talmud, 292
Job Corps, 131, 132
Johnson, Lyndon
Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 144
Majority Leader, 100
President, 21, 91, 100, 101, 105, 131, 142, 165, 179, 191, 193, 295
decision not to run again, 177
Vice President, 100
Viet Nam War, 227
Kalamazoo, Michigan, 47, 48
Kaplan, Benjamin, 66
Katzenbach, Nicholas, 28, 106, 146
Kennedy, Robert, 11-13, 15, 21- 29, 63, 80, 88, 95, 96, 98, 101, 103, 104, 106, 109, 114, 137,
141, 142, 177-179, 190, 202, 215-216, 284
assassination, 105, 187, 188
Attorney General, 1, 8, 11, 21, 100, 103, 177
oral advocate, 12
qualifications, 96, 102
reapportionment, 7
Supreme Court argument, 11, 12
charisma, 142, 182
Chavez, Cesar, 183
funeral, 187
presidential campaign, 177, 179, 180-184, 186, 188, 189
United States Senator, 179
Indianapolis speech, 184-185
Kennedy, President John, 3, 7, 8, 29, 63, 74, 80, 91, 95-96, 99-106,, 142, 177, 289
administration, 4, 20, 21, 93
assassination, 20, 100, 104-105, 187
Viet Nam, 227
Kessler, Judge Gladys Kessler, 263
King, Martin Luther, 170, 173
assassination, 105, 184-185
March on Washington, 103
Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 247

Laidlaw, 247, 249, 250
significance, 250
Lapham, Tony, 167
Law Offices of Bruce J. Terris, 217
Layton, Police Chief John, 192
legal resources for the poor, 108-110
inadequate resources, 144
Legal Services Corporation, 136
Legal Services Program, 215
Leventhal, Judge Harold, 285
Lewis, Tony, 22, 27, 93
Nieman Fellow, 7
Lodge, Jr., Henry Cabot, 289
United States Senator, 63
Loss, Louis, 69
Lucas v. Colorado, 28
March on Washington, 99, 103
Marshall, Assistant Attorney General, Burke, 22, 24
Supreme Court expert, 25
Marshall, Solicitor General Thurgood, 107
McCarthy, Eugene, 83, 178
weaknesses, 182
McCarthy, Senator Joseph, 296
McCloskey, Robert, 64
McGovern, George, 200
McMillan, John, 193, 195
McNaughton, John, 178
McSorley, Father Richard, 103
Medicaid cases, 263
men’s club, 138
Merk, Frederick, 60
Merrill Palmer Institute, 41
methadone, 166
Miami Beach, Florida, 47
Monahan, Philip (Phil), 78, 286
Moorman, James (Jim) 210, 221, 228
Moss, Laurence (Larry)
Sierra Club President, 246
Muir, John, 229
Murphy, Jack
Georgetown Law School professor, 134

NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 207
Nader, Ralph, 213
National Conference on Law and Poverty, 128
National Council for Senior Citizens, 213
National Crime Commission, 136, 144, 145, 158, 164, 168, 215
citizen advisory groups, 155
community relations, 153
excessive or aggressive police conduct, 156
influence, 160
minority recruiting for police officers, 156
police training, 157
National Development and Reform Commission, 223, 230, 231, 242, 243
National Environmental Policy Act, 224, 247-248
National Resource Defense Council, 243
National Wildlife Federation, 243, 252
NEPA, See National Environmental Policy Act
New Jersey, 252
New York 1964 riots, 172
New York Times, 7, 18, 93, 122, 193, 196, 197
Nixon, Richard, 201
presidential campaign, 187
Vice President, 95, 161, 162
President, 192
Viet Nam War, 228
North Carolina case, See Alliance for Legal Action v. US Army Corps of Engineers
NRDC, See National Development and Reform Commission

O’Brien, Lawrence (Larry), 24, 25
O’Donnell, Kenneth (Kenny), 24, 25
OEO, See Office of Economic Opportunity
Office of Economic Opportunity, 128, 130-133, 136, 144-145, 170
Office of the Solicitor General, 2-5, 8, 14-15, 18, 79, 80, 83-84, 87-91, 94, 95, 108-115, 118,
122, 126, 128, 130-131, 176, 215, 222, 279, 282-283
appointment of Robert Kennedy as Attorney General, 96
briefs, 3, 11, 29, 85, 89, 109-111, 119, 127, 229, 230, 262, 286, 287
Eisenhower administration, 3
formulation of its position, 114
ideology, 92
inadequate assistance of counsel, 86
temporary job, 2
work flow, 6
On Democracy’s Doorstep, 284
one man, one vote, 1, 13, 21, 27, 254, 282, 284
Palmer v. Shultz, 256
Palmer, Alison, 254, 257, 259, 264
significance, 258
Peace Corps, 132
Pearl Harbor, 45, 50
Pearson, Drew, 177
Pertschuk, Michael (Mike), 213
Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, 67
Phillips Academy Andover, 58
Phillips, Channing, 189, 194, 204
Phillips, Sally, 73
Pollak, Stephen (Steve), 137, 170
civil rights issues, 94
Deputy General Counsel of the Office of Economic Opportunity, 129
Deputy General Counsel of the Office of Equal Opportunity, 108
emergencies in the South, 94
Kennedy assassination, 20
poverty issues, 131
responsibilities for the District of Columbia, 172
Powell, Justice Lewis, 108, 135, 170
pro bono practice, 222
Project Share, 205
public interest practice, 221. 224, 225
Quesada, Elwood “Pete”, 201

Rankin, J. Lee
background, 85
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 120
Solicitor General, 3-4, 12, 84-85, 91-93
reapportionment, 1-15, 21-23, 28,-30, 88, 92, 97-98, 106-107, 111, 114, 122, 125, 127
reflections on one person, one vote, 298
Reynolds v. Sims, 27-28
Richard Grammar School, 50
Richey, Judge Charles, 285
Rogers, Attorney General William, 92-93
Roosevelt, President Franklin, 45, 50
“Rotten Borough System”, 1
Royal Oak, Michigan, 44

San Francisco, California, 47
Scalia, Justice Antonin, 249
Schlesinger, Arthur Jr., 60, 61
Schlesinger, Arthur Sr., 60
Schneider v. Rusk, 121
Seavey, Warren, 66
settlement houses, 138
Shirley DuVal (wife), 71
Shriver, Sargent, 24, 109, 128, 129, 132, 135, 136, 215
legal services for the poor, 108
Sierra Club, 207, 230, 243, 249, 253
Muir, John, 229
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, 221, 228
Sierra Club v. Fri, 246-247
Sierra Club v. Morton, 228
sit-in cases, 21, 93, 282
Small Business Administration, 202
Smith, Steven (Steve), 24
Smith Act case, 120
Smith, Gerald L.K.
anti-Semite, 44
Smith, J. Douglas, 284
Smith, Samuel (Sam), 197
Socratic method, 126, 175
Spitzer, Ralph, 118-119, 287
standing, 248
Supreme Court, 228
State Department Grievance Board, 254
state legislature reapportionment question, 22
Stewart, Justice Potter, 280
Supreme Court, U.S. 98, 165, 229, 262
briefs, 90, 110, 127
decisions, 1, 122
sit-ins, 95
Supreme Court History, 29

Takoma, Washington, 47
Tea Party, 200
Terris, 29, 31, 75, 85, 113, 128, 159, 215, 217, 223, 231, 243, 251, 265
Terris, Bruce – personal
Detroit, Michigan, 31
Babylonian Talmud, 292
Brownell Junior High School, 42, 53
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 47
children, 72
clerkship applications, 69
Cold War, 52
committed Orthodox Jew, 291
conversion to Catholicism, 71, 290
Depression, 42
DuVal, Shirley (wife), 71
English movies, 60
family life
childhood, 42
discussions, 44
Jewish cultural characteristics, 53
Jewish upbringing, 289
recollections of growing up during World War II, 49
University of Michigan football games, 43
Army, 42, 46
medical practice after World War II, 43, 52
practice medicine in Detroit., 32
rupture with father due to conversion, 71
Wayne University., 32
Yiddish spoken during childhood, 31
foreign language difficulties, 40
Gillespie, Sallie (wife), 72
grandfather, 31
Grand Trunk Railroad, 32
scrap business, 32
White Russia (Belarus), 31
Grosse Pointe High School, 53
grades, 54
Hi-Y club with Christian orientation, 38
school newspaper sports editor, 54
Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 34, 50, 55
Snake Woods neighborhood, 37
restrictive covenants, 38
Harvard College, 56-60, 63, 84, 272
Ahlstrom. Sydney, 60
application, 57
Beard, Charles, 61
Brinton, Crane, 173
Finley, John, 58
foreign languages, 40
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 187
grades, 59-60
Handlin, Oscar, 60
history major, 60
Huntington, Samuel, 61
Merk, Frederick, 60
Phi Beta Kappa, 61
Schlesinger, Arthur Jr., 60
Schlesinger, Arthur Sr., 60
summa cum laude, 62
thesis, 60-61
Harvard Law School, 4, 6, 7, 19, 24, 68, 69, 75, 115, 126, 144, 208, 265
Chayes, Abram (Abe), 113
Cox, Archibald, 93, 107
experience, 65
Freund, Paul, 69
Griswold, Erwin, 118
Hall, Livingston, 67
Hart, Henry, 69
Harvard Law Review, 66
editor, 67
ideology, 6, 115
Kaplan, Benjamin, 66
Loss, Louis. 69
McCloskey, Robert, 64
Socratic method, 65
Seavey, Warren, 66
jailed, 196
Jerusalem Talmud, 292
Korean War, 62
McCarthyism, 62
memory of atomic bombing, 52
Merrill Palmer Institute, 41
Miami Beach, Florida, 47
nurse, 33
Poland, 33
Toronto, 33
tremendous home keeper, 35, 49
newspapers, 44
Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, 67
PM newspaper, 53
political views as leftist, 53
polynoidal cyst, 62
reapportionment case., 15
climate change, 297
country’s progress, 293
state of environmental law, 297
state of public interest law, 298
Reform synagogue, 39
restrictive covenants in Grosse Pointe, 38
Richard Grammar School, 41, 53
sister, 34, 54
Snake Woods, 37
step-daughter Sally Phillips, 73
tennis, 54
University of Michigan application, 56
Terris – Professional
1500 Block Club, 137
Administrative Law Review, 223
advice to young people considering law,, 268
African-American youth programs, 170
Alliance for Legal Action v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 224, 232, 245
Alliance for Public Justice, 214
American Academy of Political Science, 159
American Bar Association, 108, 133, 135
American Canoe Association, 237, 243
American Public Health Association, 213
Anacostia Assistance Corporation, 201-202, 206
Ash Council, 223
Assistant to the Solicitor General, 85, 86
Assistant to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, 170
Baker v. Carr, 1, 3, 4, 7-10, 92, 93
Better Homes organization, 139
biggest challenge for public interest firm, 233
Black Panthers, 259
Bolling v. Sharpe, 95
briefs, 3, 8-9, 11, 13-15, 26, 29, 84, 87, 89, 113, 115, 119, 120, 229-230, 257
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 120
Cox, Archibald, 110-111
Bush v. Gore, 262
Grape Workers Union, 212
learning to write, 78
national environmental organizations, 228-230
Office of the Solicitor General, 109, 286-287
Supreme Court, 90, 110, 127
Brown v. Board of Education, 63, 93, 123, 196, 294, 300
Bush v. Gore, 262
Bustos v. Saxbe, 211
Colegrove v. Green, 4
Carter Administration, 240
Center for Law and Social Policy, 125, 206, 208-215, 217, 221-222
Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, The, 147
challenges for young lawyers, 269
Chavez, Cesar, 208
Clifton Terrace renovation, 204
Coalition of Conscience, 194
community organizer, 137
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 120
Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice, 169
Conference on Law and Poverty, 141
constitutional standing, 251
contingent fee cases, 218-219
Democratic National Committee, 189
Department of Justice Community Relations Service, 169
District of Columbia Development Corporation, 206
District of Columbia Home Rule Committee, 194
District of Columbia
D.C. General Hospital, 211
preschool special education, 259
Endangered Species Act, 244
evolution of environmental practice, 243
expert expenses, 234
Federal Trade Commission, 213
fee-shifting statutes, 218
Ford Foundation, 217
Friends of the Earth, 237
Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw, 247-248
Gray v. Sanders, 1, 10
great disappointments of legal career, 213
Hackensack Riverkeeper, 252
Harris v. Florida Elections Candidacy Commission, 261
High Ross Dam, 242
hiring and retaining attorneys, 235
Honeywell case, See Interfaith Community, et al v. Honeywell et al
Honeywell International, Inc., 237, 263
House Un-American Activities Committee, 119
Housing Development Corporation, 139
Humphrey, Vice-President Hubert
staff, 174
Immigration and Naturalization Act, 119
Internal Security Division, 70, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 83, 85, 286, 296
Interfaith Community, et al v. Honeywell, et al, 237
jury trials, 275
Kennedy, President John
assassination end of my youth, 104
Kennedy, Robert
presidential campaign, 180, 182
Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 247
Laidlaw, See Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw, 247-248
Law Offices of Bruce J. Terris, 217
losing cases, 278
Lucas v. Colorado, 28
managing cases, 272
Medicaid cases, 263
men’s club, 138
Nader, Ralph, 213
National Council for Senior Citizens, 213
National Crime Commission, 136
National Environmental Policy Act, 224
North Carolina case, See Alliance for Legal Action v. US Army Corps of Engineers
Office of Economic Opportunity, 144
Office of the Solicitor General
decision to leave, 130
duties and responsibilities of Assistant to the Solicitor General, 86
personal assistant to Solicitor General, J. Lee Rankin, 84
one person, one vote, 254
Palmer v. Shultz, 256
preparation to become a lawyer, 271
preparing for a panel of judges, 276
preparing for trial, 274
preparing to interview witnesses, 273
pride and satisfaction, 30
pro bono practice, 222
practice, 35
proudest accomplishment
reapportionment case, 127
public interest practice, 221, 224-225
biggest challenge for public interest firm, 233
reapportionment, 1-15, 21-23, 28,-30, 88, 92, 97-98, 106-107, 111, 114, 122, 125, 127
reflections, 253, 265
environmental practice, 252
judges, 279, 281
public service career, 126
resignation from Center for Law and Social Policy, 214
Reynolds v. Sims, 27-28
Role of the Police, The, 159
Office of the Solicitor General
day-to-day job, 87
view, as the Tenth Justice, 87
Schneider v. Rusk, 121
Sierra Club, 247
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, 221
Sierra Club v. Fri, 246
Sierra Club v. Morton, 228
sit-in cases, 86
standing, 228, 248
Supreme Court oral arguments, 116
teaching law at Catholic University., 175
Terris, Pravlik & Millian, 217
Water Act cases, 237
Wesberry v. Sanders, 1, 13, 15-18, 20-21
Supreme Court decision, 18
death due to aneurism, 290
settlement house, 140
women’s club, 138
Terris, Pravlik & Millian, 217, 243
Tompkins, William (Tommy), 79

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 16, 230, 248, 255, 257, 260,
262, 263, 285
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, 279
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, 118
United States Department of State Foreign Service, 254
United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 16, 228-229, 255, 263, 285
Vera Institute, 207
Vietnam War, 105-106, 162, 177-178, 186, 190-191, 227
Vorenberg, James (Jim), 145, 157, 160
Executive Director, OEO, 144
Voting Rights Act, 106, 169
Voting Rights Act of 1965, 106

Wald, Patricia, 206, 255, 256
Judge, 110, 134
National Crime Commission findings, 158
Palmer v. Shultz, 256
Wallace, George, 187
War on Drugs, 167
War on Poverty, 132, 146, 173
Warren Court, 114, 115, 123, 125
Warren, Chief Justice Earl, 123
Washington 1968 riots, 186
Washington, Walter, 191
Washington City Council, 192
Water Act cases, 237
Watts riots 1965, 172
Wesberry v. Sanders, 1, 13, 15-18, 20-21
Supreme Court decision, 18
White, Justice Byron, 124, 211
Wilkins, Roger, 169
Williams, Edward Bennett, 277-278
women’s club, 138
Wright, Judge Skelly, 69, 285

Yale Law School, 119
ideology, 6, 115
Yalta conference, 50
Table of Cases
Alliance for Legal Action v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 314 F. Supp. 2d 534 (M.D.N.C.
2004), 224, 232, 245
Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), 1, 3, 4, 7-10, 92, 93
Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954), 95
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), 63, 93, 123, 196, 294, 300
Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), 262
Bustos v. Saxbe, 419 U.S. 65 (1974), 211
Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549 (1946), 4
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 367 U.S. 1 (1961), 120
Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw, 528 U.S. 1967 (2000), 247-248
Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368 (1964), 1, 10
Harris v. Florida Elections Candidacy Commission, 122 F. Supp.2d 1317 (N.D. Fla. 2000), 261
Interfaith Community, et al v. Honeywell et al, 426 F.3d 694 (3d Cir. 2005), 237
Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390 (1976), 247
Palmer v. Shultz, 815 F.2d 84 (D.C. Cir. 1984), 256
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), 27-28
Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163 (1964), 121
Sierra Club v. Fri, 412 U.S. 451 (1973), 246-247
Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), 228
Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), 1, 8, 13, 15-18, 20-21