ORAL HISTORY OF IRVIN B. NATHAN
This interview was conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the District
of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Sheldon Krantz and the interviewee is Irv Nathan. The
interview took place at the D.C. office of DLA Piper on Saturday, January 9, 2016. This is the
MR. KRANTZ: We anticipate that this will be the first of three interviews of Irv, and I am
looking forward to participating in this. So with this background, Irv, we are
going today to focus on your roots and the process of your growing up and
what made you decide to enter into the legal profession, but let’s start just by
talking about your roots and your background, where you were born and
where you grew up.
MR. NATHAN: First of all, thank you very much Sheldon for doing this. I never thought of
myself as being involved in a historical project before but it’s very flattering.
And as you can see, I did not grow up very high, but I did grow up as far as I
did in Baltimore, Maryland. I was born in 1943, and we lived in a lower
middle class neighborhood in Baltimore City.
I went to public schools there. My parents were first generation
Americans. Each of their parents had come from Eastern Europe, either at
the end of the 19th century or by the first quarter of the 20th century. The
native language of my grandparents was Yiddish. I never met my maternal
grandparents. They died when my mother was actually a teenager so my
mother was an orphan and fended for herself. She was a very intelligent
woman with a great sense of humor, but she did not have a college education.
My dad was also first generation American, and he held a variety of jobs.
Both of them ended up actually working for governments. My dad worked
for the city as a purchasing agent, the person to be sure the city was getting
full payment for the services and products that it purchased. My mother
worked for the state welfare system. But when I was very young, she did not
work at all. She stayed at home and raised me and my younger sister,
We lived in a very Jewish neighborhood. We lived on a congested truck
route, Reisterstown Road, half a block from the public school. The house, a
semi-detached house that my folks rented, was about a block-and-a-half from
the Hebrew school and within walking distance both of a public playground
where I spent many hours, and in the other direction a public library which
was a very important asset for me and for a lot of children of that era.
Baltimore has a very good public library system. We also were within
walking distance of a number of synagogues, one of which is where I was bar
The public school, P.S. 59, was a very good school and had good teachers.
They seemed very caring. Education was very important to my parents. They
had not had a great deal of education. My dad, who went to the same
elementary I went to and the same high school, worked when he graduated
high school but went to law school at night at the University of Baltimore
Law School which was then a totally private non-public school. He did
graduate but never practiced law.
I would say we were poor but we didn’t really realize it. We had ample
shelter and clothing and food and all the basic necessities were taken care of.
But there were no luxuries, no vacations to speak of, no fancy clothes or toys,
not even a bike. We had a lot of love and a lot of encouragement to succeed,
and a major part of the notion of succeeding was to get a good education. In
addition to the public school I mentioned there was a Hebrew school nearby,
and I actually made great use of that. It turned out to be a very significant
thing in my life because in addition to getting a public school education,
through Hebrew school where I was a good student, I was able to get a
scholarship to a Hebrew speaking camp. Otherwise I would not have been
able to go to camp.
The camp was a labor Zionist camp down near Annapolis and so from age
13 or so until 16 or 17 I was both a camper and a counselor at that camp. I
think that the values that were inculcated in the camp (as well as from my
parents, who were ardent New Dealers and admirers of Franklin Roosevelt)
have informed my politics. I view myself as a progressive and an ardent
Zionist. I don’t agree with the current Israeli government and believe in
social justice. My positive view of the good that governments can do
accounts for a lot of the public service that I have been lucky enough to
perform since coming to D.C.
I would say that the other significant event that occurred early on maybe
in the sixth or seventh grade was my interest in journalism. At the time
Baltimore had a sports editor at the Baltimore Morning Sun papers named
Jesse Linthicum who would publish letters that were sent to him about sports
and I sent in a letter not long after the Orioles arrived in Baltimore. The
Orioles arrived from St. Louis in 1954. I was probably in the sixth grade or
so. In one of the early years of the Orioles I wrote an article about how the
team would do — you’re not going to like this Sheldon, because I don’t think
I predicted that the Red Sox would do that well that year. That letter was
published in its entirety in his column, where he published a limited number
of letters. To me that was a big deal and I really appreciated the process of
getting my letter published and getting my name in the paper as a writer.
When I went to high school at Baltimore City College it had a very
prominent school weekly newspaper, the Collegian, and a number of my
close friends were on the Collegian. I joined the sports staff. I very much
enjoyed writing for the paper. I was a reporter and then a sports editor of the
paper and became the managing editor in the final year. A lot of the time in
high school was spent on journalism and that paper.
The paper won a medalist prize from the Columbia Journalism School and
I got to go to New York City with my buddies. It was very exciting. There I
went to my first Broadway show, The Music Man, and we got to make a
fleeting appearance on the Today Show with Dave Garroway. The advisor to
the paper was a very significant role model to me, an English teacher, named
Charles Cherubin. He was a very liberal activist and encouraged activism
and gave us good guidance not only on the newspaper and journalism but
also on national politics and public service.
Then finally while growing up, at the beginning of the Kennedy
administration, I watched President Kennedy’s inaugural speech about doing
public service and asking what you can do for your country and I think that
also made a big impression on me. I took that in and I think that had a major
impact on me growing up. So that was a pretty long- winded answer but I
think it gives you the essence of my youth.
MR. KRANTZ: Well I think this is an excellent start. I just want to say as an aside there are
some similarities in our background because I also became interested in
journalism in high school and was the editor of the sports section of our
newspaper. So I am intrigued by the parallel. Tell me more about your sister
MR. NATHAN: I think I mentioned her briefly and we have a nice relationship. There was
the usual sibling rivalry, and I am guilty of having teased her too much. We
obviously went to the same schools. She is three years younger than I am
and she went to that same camp that I did. She went to both public school
and Hebrew school and she became a public school teacher. She went to
Towson State Teacher’s College, now Towson University, and then from
teaching she became a mentor for engineers at Boeing and she worked for
Boeing. She is now retired and living near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, enjoying
her many grandchildren.
MR. KRANTZ: Irv you had talked about the impact that the labor Zionist camp had on you
with respect to your views both on Zionism and social justice. Could you
talk a little bit more about that, I mean what kinds of things were really
discussed at the camp?
MR. NATHAN: First of all it was a belief in helping each other. There was a communal spirit
at both the camp and in the city. Apart from the camp there was an
organization, named Habonim, where I spent a lot of time. I became the
president of the local chapter one year — I think my junior or senior year in
high school .It was very interested in the labor union movement in being sure
that workers got a fair shake. It was very interested in civil rights and civil
liberties and so it participated in marches and protests. And, of course, it
believed in a viable state of Israel as a homeland for the Jews. Even in our
modest home, we had what was called a “pushkie” where we would put small
change, and a bearded rabbi would come to our home every once in a while
to collect our savings and presumably pass it on to an agency that would help
Jews settle in Israel after the Second World War. A number of my
contemporaries from that era made “Aliyah,” meaning that they emigrated to
Israel and live in Israel now. It probably accounts in part for my recent
activity. When I finished my service as Attorney General for the District of
Columbia and after agreeing to go back to my law firm, Arnold & Porter, I
took off a few months last year to teach at Hebrew University and my wife
and I lived in Israel for the first time. I had visited several times before, and I
think the affection for that country and the hope that it survives and prospers,
stem from those days.
MR. KRANTZ: You mention one role model growing up when you were involved in the high
school newspaper. Do you want to mention some other role models, some
people that had an impact, either people you knew or just people you
respected or authors of books that you were quite taken with?
MR. NATHAN: Well, obviously I was taken with President Kennedy. I was a teenager when
he was elected and it was a very thrilling experience but that wasn’t close up.
I would say that in addition to my parents and Charlie Cherubin, the most
significant role model for me was Judge Simon Sobeloff. I clerked for him
after law school and before starting to practice. Judge Sobeloff was a very
highly respected individual in the Baltimore community. He had an
illustrious career, in both public service and private practice. He had been the
United States Attorney in Baltimore during Prohibition, later City Solicitor in
Baltimore. He had been the Solicitor General of United States in the
Eisenhower Administration, the chief judge of the Maryland Court of
Appeals and the Chief Judge of Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was
also the founder of a well- respected law firm in Baltimore that continues to
thrive today, although without his name on it. My clerkship with him was a
very significant event for me. He was always interested in social justice and
in being sure that prosecutors were fair with defendants and the defendants
got all of their rights. He believed deeply in integration, racial justice and in
public service. I think he taught his clerks the importance of that and the fact
that my fellow law clerk from that period, Judd Miner, became Corporation
Counsel for Chicago in the administration of the first black mayor of
Chicago, and I had essentially a similar job for D.C. was no coincidence.
This was basically the same job that our judge had had in Baltimore more
than half a century before us. When I held positions in the U.S. Department
of Justice, I had the official portrait of Simon Sobeloff, from his days as
Solicitor General, hanging in my office so when knotty problems arose, I
could think what would Judge Sobeloff do under these circumstances.
MR. KRANTZ: Were there jobs you had growing up?
MR. NATHAN: I did and I guess that’s another role model that I should mention. As I
mentioned, we lived in a semi-detached house. The other half of that semidetached house was occupied by a widow who had three children – a son and
two daughters. The son, Jerry Gross, who was, I would say, about 10 years
older than I, was a very intelligent guy and a very good tennis player. He
taught me a little bit about tennis, and we would play chess and checkers on
our adjacent front porches. He became a CPA and began working in an
accounting firm, Sidney London & Co. in downtown Baltimore. My father
asked Jerry if there was a job I might do at the firm’s office on Saturdays and
during the summer. Through Jerry, when I was about 12 or 13 years old I
became employed as an office boy at the accounting firm. Part of my job
there was to run the duplicating facility which involved mixing chemicals for
a thermofax machine. If you put too many chemicals in, the copy came out
dark and streaked and if you did not put enough in, it came out faint and
illegible. It was a very sensitive operation. So I would do copying for them.
The other part involved updating their CCH service. They had a tremendous
back log of CCH supplements, and they wanted someone to go through them
and insert the new CCH pages on tax and accounting matters and remove the
outdated ones. So I would sit in this library and pull pages out and put the
replacement pages in. Sometimes I would tear out the same pages that I just
put in a few minutes before as they were quite backed up.
I’ll tell you a story about that. For working a full day, this was either on
Saturdays or in the summertime in my first paying job, I got $5 a day and
would be paid by my next door neighbor Jerry Gross from petty cash. One
day I had worked the full day and Jerry wasn’t there when the day ended. So
I said to one of the young junior accountants that I wanted to get paid. They
said “well how much do you get paid?” and I said “I get $5 a day.” And they
said “Well that’s more than we get,” and that was the end of my job there.
Later on as I mentioned, I was a counselor at the camp.
Another job I had was working as a truck driver and delivery boy for an
unsuccessful spice company that my father started. His short-lived company
sold spices in bulk principally for crab houses in the Baltimore area and meat
packers in western Maryland. He had a converted milk truck that you had to
drive while standing up and shifting gears from a long horizontal shaft that
started in the floor board and came up to your waist. I drove that truck
through the congested streets of Baltimore and delivered 100 pound sacks of
seafood seasoning to retail establishments. This experience taught me that I
wanted to go into a profession and not be a manual laborer. Going forward
from the teenage years, I went to college and worked in the summers for the
Baltimore Evening Sun.
MR. KRANTZ: Before you get to college I want to ask you another question about the
teenage years. You indicated that you grew up in a Jewish neighborhood.
Did you come across any anti-Semitism growing up?
MR. NATHAN: No. And that was one of the lessons that the advisor to the newspaper,
Charlie Cherubin, that I mentioned, taught us. He made clear that we had
grown up in a bubble, that most of our neighbors were Jewish, and we were
shielded from the prejudices of the outside world. On the Jewish high
holidays, the public schools in our neighborhood either closed or maybe two
people showed up, so we never missed any time from school because of
taking off for the Jewish holidays. He said basically we were living in a
cocoon, cosseted by our parents, and protected from anti-Semitic thoughts or
comments. We never really realized what was out there in the rest of the
world, did not realize that until I went off to college, and there were Jewish
and non-Jewish fraternities, which would not even consider allowing a Jew to
MR. KRANTZ: Okay. Now let’s turn to what you started to talk about, which is after you
graduated high school your next steps up in terms of both undergraduate
work and the decision to go to law school.
MR. NATHAN: Well, I graduated high school in 1960. I had gone to an accelerated junior
high program. During junior high school, we did three years in two and I
went through high school in three years and so I was 16 when I graduated
from high school in 1960 on the verge of turning 17. I wanted to go to a
good school but again finances were a considerable factor. So it was
determined that the best place for me to go was to Johns Hopkins in my
home town of Baltimore where I could live at home. I lived at home as did
a number of other students in Baltimore in those days. We were known as
“townies.” Of course there were a greater number of students from out of the
city. One of those was a fellow named Michael Bloomberg, who has since
donated more than a billion dollars to the school. I majored in history at
Hopkins and once again I focused on journalism at Hopkins. It was not an
academic subject. I was on the newspaper, The Newsletter, and again started
as a sports reporter, then was the editor of the sports pages and then became
the co-editor in chief of the Hopkins paper. Again, it was a weekly and it
was a very good paper. Among my predecessors as editors in chief were
Russell Baker and Alger Hiss. In addition, I got into broadcasting. The
college had a very good radio station, WJHU, and I did the play- by- play
broadcasting on the radio of both football and lacrosse. I am one of the few
play-by-play lacrosse announcers in the world. I also had a talk radio show,
a call in sports show at WJHU for a couple of years. I believe that
experience was important in my career. I think that journalism is very good
training for the law because it taught you to both write and speak well, to
write leads that were informative and to make your main points early then to
flesh out the story with details in a descending order of importance. In doing
oral reports on sports, again it was important to communicate well with your
audience and get to the important points, make your points coherently and
make your presentations in a coherent logical way.
I financed my years at Hopkins, with scholarships, loans and my summer
earnings. Of course, I did not have to pay for room or board. And the interest
rates on loans were quite modest, so I was able to pay them off shortly after I
started working. In the first summer, I worked as a waiter at a resort in the
Adirondacks. I got that job through a friend I met at Hopkins. In the
summers of my next three years at Hopkins, — I worked at the Baltimore
Evening Sun as a sports reporter. One year, I got a fellowship from the Wall
Street Journal which said that if I got a job with a recognized newspaper
during the summer they would give me a stipend–I think it was about $500–
and that went a long way towards paying the part of tuition that was not
covered by the scholarship. They sent me the names of a number of
newspapers that would hire me, but they all involved travelling and living in
a different, distant city. My folks convinced me that for economic reasons, it
would be best if I worked for The Baltimore Sun and could save more of both
my pay check from the paper and the stipend. So I did work for the evening
newspaper in Baltimore. In those days, the Sun had two papers, an evening
and a morning paper. The evening paper had a sports section and they hired
me to cover amateur sports. I covered little league baseball. There was a
page in the sports section each week devoted to the little leagues. I had a
photographer who would come with me, and we would go out to all the fields
and report on the teams that were playing, including the kids and the coaches.
I would ask questions, and the kids would give their answers, and I would
make them intelligible and run their pictures with the story. I also covered
other amateur sports, including soft ball, which was a big amateur sport in
the city. And then as a special treat for me every once in a while, they let me
do a color story for the Colts and the Orioles. This was a big thrill. I got to
meet some of the players and coaches and also some of the journalists who
regularly covered the Orioles, the Colts and Bullets.
It was a very good and important experience for me, but I have to say this
was before Woodward and Bernstein and others who made investigative
journalism popular after that. When I saw the life of the journalist and the
tedium that was part of the process, I realized that I would have more
opportunities in other areas, either in academics–I gave some thought to
going to graduate school in history– or in law and ultimately concluded that
law was going to offer the best opportunities to do a variety of things.
MR. KRANTZ: Now, how did you reach that conclusion? That law was the field that you
wanted to pursue?
MR. NATHAN: Well it was a combination of things. I had not had any interaction with
lawyers in our community. But I had done a lot of reading about lawyers.
One of my heroes was Clarence Darrow. I read his autobiography and books
about him. I think I read the autobiography after seeing the play, Inherit the
Wind, which was put on by my high school drama department in my senior
year. I also read Louis Nizer’s book, My Life in Court, which described a
number of cases where his lawyering skills had won for his clients. I also saw
a number of television shows. When I was very young, there were shows
called The Public Defender and one called Mr. District Attorney both of
which I watched. And there were other TV dramas about lawyers, including
Perry Mason which came along in my late high school, early college years. I
think I also saw when I was in college the movie To Kill a Mockingbird with
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, which was very powerful. Finally, an
important influence was a course I took at Hopkins in American
constitutional law taught by Prof. Carl Swisher. He was not a lawyer, but a
political scientist, who put the landmark Supreme Court decisions in
historical and political context. From reading the assigned cases and
considering the arguments in both the majority opinions and the dissents, I
could discern what the lawyers had done to shape the cases. So I think all of
these factors, including mostly popular literature and movies, led me to the
conclusion that law might be an interesting pursuit. Even with all this, it was
a close question as I graduated college, whether to go to graduate school in
history or to law school. I basically chose to go to law school because it
would lead to a broader array of professional opportunities.
MR. KRANTZ: And the possible link between that and your interest in social justice?
MR. NATHAN: Absolutely. I think the kind of cases that Darrow had were very inspiring
and fit into my progressive agenda. Darrow of course originally was a
railroad lawyer and represented monied interests. Later in his career, he
represented labor unions, labor leaders and people accused of crime and
those seeking to uphold their First Amendment rights. This was an important
part of what intrigued me and led me to law school.
MR. KRANTZ: Before we go to the law school part of your life, there are a couple of
questions that come from things that you have said earlier. One is, clearly
sports were important to you as you were growing up. Why do you think that
was the case both in terms of your interest in sports and maybe you can talk a
little bit about your direct activity in sports?
MR. NATHAN: Like I said, we didn’t have a lot of money so we didn’t have a lot of kinds of
entertainment. We didn’t go on ski trips, we didn’t belong to a country club,
I didn’t play golf at the time, but I liked sports very much. I had pretty good
hand/eye coordination so the sports I played were the ones you could play at
the local field which was softball, basketball and touch football. My parents
did not want me to play tackle football. They were afraid their little guy
would hurt his head and his head would have to be the way to get ahead in
society, so they put tackle football off limits. I played in the touch football
league we had in junior high. I was also on the student basketball team that
played the faculty at our junior high school. In fact I met a guy who is one of
my closest friends now when we were 8 years old down at the softball field.
He did not live in our neighborhood but he biked down to our field and we
played — it was called The Towanda Midgets — we were the soft ball champs
of that field in the 10 and under category and we played in the city
championship together. As it turned out, he then went to the same junior
high school with me and we were both active on the school newspaper. He
and another good friend went away to college, but when they came home for
Thanksgiving, we would always have a touch football game with other
friends that we called The Toilet Bowl. In later years, this morphed into a coed, multigenerational game that our wives and children played in as well,
followed by a deli feast at one of our parents’ homes. It was a tradition that
lasted for many years.
I never was good enough to play on the high school or college teams, but I
always retained my interest in sports. I guess it was first fostered by my
father. He would take me to minor league baseball games in Baltimore before
the Orioles came to town. After they arrived, when I was about 12, he took
me to a department store to meet this 19-year old who was in his rookie
season with the Orioles. It was Brooks Robinson. I got his autograph and I
remember his being very kind and friendly to me and my father. Today one
has to pay big bucks for an autograph of a star like Brooks Robinson. I
continue my sports interest today, rooting for the Nationals, the Orioles, the
Redskins and the Wizards. I never did get into ice hockey and really don’t
understand that sport.
MR. KRANTZ: Where does your competitive spirit come from? I have played racquetball
with you and seen when you are down in the score make determined efforts
to come back and win.
MR. NATHAN: I really don’t know, but it’s been a trait all of my life. I think it stems from
the need to succeed that was implanted in us by our parents so that we would
have a better material life than they had. I was always egged on by father to
do better. I would come home from school with a report card with 3 A’s and
a B, quite proud of myself, and he would say, “how come you got a B?” And
I guess, I saw the results of trying hard. When I did pretty well in checkers
with Jerry Gross, it helped get me the job I described. And when I did well in
elementary school, I was invited to go to the accelerated junior high. And as
mentioned, my good grades in Hebrew school got me to go to camp. So the
lesson I learned early was that trying hard and winning could pay off, and it’s
been part of me ever since even when it’s only a game.
MR. KRANTZ: And anybody who knows you knows that humor is a big part of your
personality. Where does the humor come from?
MR. NATHAN: That I think I inherited from my parents. Both of them had very good senses
of humor and were willing to laugh at themselves, at others and at the
absurdity of life. Comedy on television was a big part of our family life. I
remember in the late ‘40’s living in a small walk-up apartment, and even
though we were poor, we had a small black and white TV. On Tuesday
nights, chairs were arranged in theater fashion in front of the TV and
neighbors and relatives would come over and we would watch the Milton
Berle Show, I think it was called the Texaco Comedy Hour. My Dad in
particular loved Milton Berle and would laugh heartily at the outlandish
costumes, the sight gags and occasional interjection of Yiddish words and
expressions. We also watched Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows and
comedians like Myron Cohen on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was particularly
taken with the puns and witticisms of Groucho Marx and Steve Allen.
I remember when we were very young and living on Reisterstown Road,
when the television was on the first floor and our bedrooms were on the
second floor, that my sister and I would get out of our rooms and crawl very
quietly on the stair landing to watch The Tonight Show with Steve Allen,
which did not come on till 11:30, long after we were supposed to be asleep.
My parents would pretend they didn’t hear us, and then after a while would
shoo us back to bed. It basically was as mischievous as we got, and it got us
to hear a lot of the jokes and humor.
My Dad used to tell shaggy dog stories with bad puns and we would all
groan and complain, but secretly appreciated them. Even after he got
dementia as part of his Parkinson’s disease near the end of his life, he would
still appreciate the standard joke that we shared: The son comes into the
living room where his father is watching a baseball game between the
Yankees and the Orioles and asks the father, “What’s the score?” The father
says, “It’s 5 to 3,” and the son asks, “Who’s winning?” And the father says
“5.” This always brought a smile to my Dad’s face.
Basically, I see humor as a way of bonding with people, breaking the ice
and easing tensions. I also have to admit it’s a way of getting attention,
demonstrating wit, and it’s gratifying to be able to evoke laughter from
MR. KRANTZ: Ok, let’s get back to your pursuit of law. Why did you choose Columbia Law
MR. NATHAN: From Hopkins, I applied to a number of what I was told were the best law
schools. I had good grades at Hopkins, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, but
did not do particularly well on the LSAT’s. I was accepted at Columbia and
received a substantial scholarship, which was very important to me. My first
choice was Harvard, but I was put on the waiting list, and I did not know if I
was going to be accepted and suspected that even if I were, I would not
receive as generous a scholarship package. So even before hearing the final
word from Harvard, I accepted the Columbia offer. I had already had a small
taste of New York from my trip there for the journalism convention and I
knew it would be an interesting place to spend three years. For me it was a
good choice. It also saved on transportation costs. Several times a year, my
parents drove me to the school from Baltimore. I did not focus on it at the
time but realized in hindsight that when my parents drove me to New York,
because they did not have the funds for a hotel or motel, they would drive
back the same night. This was a 10-hour round trip, and since my mother did
not drive at that time, my Dad drove the full way. I remain deeply grateful
for their tremendous sacrifice for me and my career.
MR. KRANTZ: Did you like law school?
MR. NATHAN: Yes, I am one of the rare folks who actually enjoyed my experience. At the
beginning, I was intimidated. I thought a number of the students who had
gone to Ivy League colleges and were the products of prep schools had
received a better education than I had and were better prepared for law
school. In addition, a number of the students seemed to have fathers, uncles
or grandfathers who were lawyers and they were already conversant with the
lingo and issues. This, of course, only made me work harder. I diligently did
the readings before the classes, and I was fortunate in the first year to live in
a wing of a dormitory that had equally diligent, conscientious students. The
four of us were constantly in each other’s rooms, discussing cases, and of
course, personal matters, and encouraging each other. I owe a great deal to
them. They sat us alphabetically in the large first year classes and my bench
mate was Gary Naftalis, who was very bright and concerned with doing well,
just like I was. I would say we each inspired the other to do as well as we
could. We both made the law review based on our grades. Even though I did
not work as hard in the next year, my grades actually improved. Admittedly,
I did not work so hard in the last year, when grades mattered a lot less. In
addition to classes and law review, I was active in the Jerome Michael moot
court competition. This was a trial level moot court, where you were
presented with facts and statements and people playing the witnesses, and the
trial was held before juries made up by undergraduate volunteers from
Barnard and Columbia. I enjoyed and profited from the experience, and was
proud to win the Jerome Michael trophy in my senior year. It cemented my
view that I wanted to be a litigator when I graduated. I also worked in that
last year for the New York Legal Aid Society. It was a way to get some
pocket change and also see real legal problems up close. That, too, was a
very rewarding experience.
MR. KRANTZ: What kinds of things did you do at Legal Aid?
MR. NATHAN: I was working under the direction of a number of lawyers. Most of the cases
involved domestic relations, housing issues and employment matters. I met
with clients, worked up statements of their concerns to pass on to the
lawyers, and did some legal research. None of the work got me into court
personally, but I was fortunate to accompany some of the lawyers to
preliminary matters in the New York trial courts.
MR. KRANTZ: Before we wrap up for the day, we should talk a little about your family.
MR. NATHAN: Happy to. I was married at the end of my second year of law school. My
wife, Jerry, was someone I had met in Habonim in Baltimore. She became
pregnant with our first child, Dan, in my third year, and Danny was born just
after I started clerking for Judge Sobeloff in the summer of 1967. We were
then living in Baltimore, where both our families were and they could help
with childcare. Our second son, Jon, was born in 1972 when we had moved
to Washington for my job at Arnold & Porter. Jerry and I were divorced in
the mid-1970s. In part, I attribute that to the long hours I was putting in at
the firm and the frequent travel. I give her a great deal of credit for handling
the bulk of the child rearing. She did a great job, and we have two wonderful
sons who are now grown and married. In the late 1970s, I met and married
my much better half, Judy Walter, who has made a wonderful life for us and
our family and has been the best thing that ever happened to me.
MR. KRANTZ: I can attest that she is your much better half.
MR. NATHAN: When I met her, she was a vice president at the Wells Fargo bank in
San Francisco, but she had been living in D.C. for a couple of years, first as a
White House Fellow and then as the assistant to the president of American
University, Joe Sisco, who had been her boss at the State Department when
she was a White House Fellow. Immediately after we met, she moved back
to San Francisco to resume her job with the bank. We had a transcontinental
romance for a couple of years, which was aided by the fact that a number of
her bank clients were in the Southeast U.S, where she had to fly on a
monthly basis, and I had some cases in San Francisco.
She had gone to Berkeley for graduate school, had many friends out there
and loved the city. I consider it my greatest forensic triumph to have
convinced her to come east, get married and live in D.C. She worked as a
senior deputy Comptroller of the Currency, then got a PhD at Catholic
University in social work, and taught as an adjunct there for several years.
She has developed a great network of friends in D.C. and now would never
consider moving anywhere else. She has been incredibly supportive to me
and a calming and maturing influence. She is a wonderful step-mother and
grandmother to our two grandchildren, Ben and Zoe. They are the children of
our son Dan and his wife Sue Taylor, who live in Saratoga Springs,
New York. They live there because Dan is a professor of American Studies at
Skidmore College. We have a second home about an hour away from them
in the Berkshires, and we try to get there as much as we can to see the
grandchildren. We also try to visit our son Jon and his wife Melissa who live
in Manhattan as much as we can. So I guess that’s the story of my family
MR. KRANTZ: I think that’s a good place to break for the day. We’ll schedule a next session
to talk about your legal career. I’ll be in touch soon.
MR. NATHAN: Thanks.
ORAL HISTORY OF IRVIN B. NATHAN