Judge Stephen F. Williams
Biographical Sketch
Stephen F. Williams was born in New York City in 1936. He was the youngest of three children born to C. Dickerman Williams and Virginia Fain, with an ancestry that included at least two passengers on the Mayflower. He graduated from the Millbrook School in 1954 and from Yale College, magna cum laude, in 1958.
Williams then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1961 alongside future Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Judge Laurence Silberman, who decades later became Williams’ close friend and colleague on the D.C. Circuit. After graduation, Williams served briefly in the U.S. Army Reserve, working in military intelligence in the wake of the Berlin Crisis. He then practiced law at Debevoise & Plimpton before serving for several years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In 1966, Williams began his 54-year marriage to his wife Faith, with whom he had five children: Susan, Geoffrey, Sarah, Tim, and Nicholas. From 1969 through 1986, the growing family lived in Boulder, where Professor Williams taught law at the University of Colorado and began building his legacy as one of the nation’s preeminent law-and-economics scholars.
In 1986, Judge Williams was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He took senior status in 2001 but continued with a nearly full caseload until he turned 80 in 2016, and he continued sitting on cases until his death in 2020. The opinions Judge Williams wrote during his 34-year tenure have greatly influenced American jurisprudence in a wide range of fields, including antitrust, regulated industries, and administrative law.
Although Judge Williams left his full-time teaching job in 1986, he never retired from academic life. As a judge, Williams wrote many law review articles and published two highly regarded books on economic reforms in pre-Soviet Russia: The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution (Encounter Books 2017), and Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime: The Creation of Private Property in Russia, 1906-1915 (Hoover Inst. Press 2006). He also showed relentless enthusiasm for helping others with their own academic projects. His protégés—including many former law clerks—have gone on to become leading legal scholars in their own right.