Herbert Wechsler

Herbert Wechsler (December 4, 1909 – April 26, 2000) was an American legal scholar and former director of the American Law Institute (ALI). He is most widely known for his constitutional law scholarship and for the creation of the Model Penal Code. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Wechsler as one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.[1]

Herbert Wechsler
Born(1909-12-04)December 4, 1909
DiedApril 26, 2000(2000-04-26) (aged 90)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materColumbia Law School
City College of New York
Scientific career
FieldsConstitutional law
InstitutionsColumbia Law School

Early lifeEdit

Wechsler entered City College of New York at 16 and graduated in 1928, with a bachelor's degree in French.[2] He enrolled at Columbia Law School, served as editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review at 20, and graduated in 1931. After graduation, he joined the faculty and took a one-year leave to clerk for Justice Harlan F. Stone of the US Supreme Court.[3][4]


In 1940, Wechsler went to Washington, DC, to work for the Department of Justice. He argued five cases in front of the US Supreme Court during that period.[citation needed]

During World War II, Wechsler served as assistant attorney general in charge of the War Division. This included leading the litigation for Korematsu v. U.S., the case challenging the Japanese Internment during World War II.

In 1945 and 1946, he was a principal assistant to US Judge Francis Biddle and US Alternate Judge John J. Parker at the Nuremberg trial, the trial of the principal Nazi war criminals. He then returned to Columbia Law School, where he remained an active professor until 1978, when he took emeritus status.[3][4]

In 1959, Wechsler delivered his Holmes lecture at Harvard Law School, "Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law." It was also around this time that Wechsler authored a number of casebooks that changed ideas about criminal law and the federal courts. In 1963, Wechsler's proposed official draft of the Model Penal Code was approved, bringing to a close a decade-long project at the American Law Institute. His wife, Doris Wechsler, noted that he considered the Model Code to be his greatest achievement. Shortly after the approval of the Model Code, Wechsler was named director of the Institute, a position which he held until 1984.[4]

In 1964, Wechsler argued the seminal case New York Times v. Sullivan before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in that case unanimously held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments barred awards of damages to a public official for defamation relating to his or her official conduct unless the public official proves "actual malice."[3][5]


During Wechsler's tenure as director, the American Law Institute completed the second restatement of the Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Judgments, and Torts as well as the original restatement of Foreign Relations Law of the United States and large parts of the Second Restatement of Property. The Institute also conducted various studies in federal taxation and completed the Federal Securities Code, the Model Land Development Code, the Model Code of Pre-Arraignment Procedure, the Study of the Division of Jurisdiction Between State and Federal Courts, and made major revisions to the Uniform Commercial Code. The ALI's Principles of Corporate Governance and the current Restatement of Foreign Relations Law of the United States were also conceived, initiated, and developed under his direction.[4]

Following his retirement as director of the ALI in 1984, Wechsler remained active in the Institute's activities as a member of the council until his death in 2000.[4]


In 1993, Wechsler became the third recipient of the American Law Institute's Henry J. Friendly Medal for "outstanding achievement in promoting reform and clarification of the law" and for the way that his "outstanding intelligence, integrity, and devotion to the law... enriched the subjects of Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Federal Jurisdiction, as well as legal thinking generally."[4]

Wechsler also received the Association Medal of the New York City Bar Association for exceptional contributions to the honor and standing of the bar in the community.


  1. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2000). "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars". Journal of Legal Studies. 29 (1): 409–426. doi:10.1086/468080. S2CID 143676627.
  2. ^ Lewin, Tamar (2000-04-28). "Herbert Wechsler, Legal Giant, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c Rudy Carmenaty (2004). "C250 Celebrates Your Columbians: Herbert Wechsler". Columbia University. Retrieved 2007-09-16.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Herbert Wechsler". ALI Reporter. Summer 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-11-09. Retrieved 2007-09-16.
  5. ^ Abrams, Floyd (2005). Speaking Freely. Viking Press. p. 4.

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by
Herbert Funk Goodrich
Director of the American Law Institute
Succeeded by
Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr.