In 1960, the late President John F. Kennedy turned to Harvard law professor and constitutional scholar Paul Freund to fill the job of solicitor general. Freund politely refused, explaining he was busy writing a history of the Supreme Court. “I would rather make history than write it,” the President challenged Freund.
Many assume that by declining the post, Freund cost himself appointment to the Supreme Court’s traditional “Jewish seat” when it was vacated by Felix Frankfurter in 1962.
Freund indeed has written history—and is now editing an eight-volume study of the Supreme Court. He also has helped mold the men who have made so much contemporary history. His students have included Elliot Richardson, Sen. Robert Taft (who calls Freund “a truly inspiring teacher”), Transportation Secretary William Coleman, budget chief James Lynn and Sen. Thomas Eagleton. Professor Freund observes, “It is difficult not to spend an hour recalling the names.”
Freund, 68, a graduate of Washington University in his native St. Louis, says, “I can’t put a date on when I became interested in the law. I simply thought in college that it would provide an opportunity for such talents as I had.” After earning his doctorate, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis—”the most important year in my life. Brandeis set superhuman standards and lived as if each day were his last on earth and every minute counted. He was a moralist. He saw moral issues where others saw expediency.”
Freund’s approach to teaching has been enriched by his broad humanism and acute sensitivity to the law as literature. When a Russian professor once complained to him that incoming students could not write, Freund thought to himself, “It is one world after all.” In 1958, Harvard named Freund to the position of Loeb University Professor, a job which encourages him to range beyond strictly legal disciplines and into “almost anything in law-related fields that could be made relevant. It’s a polite way of saying a professor can be spared by his own department,” Freund jokes.
His Introduction to the Legal Process became an enjoyable “must” for undergraduates, especially those contemplating careers in law. “If a person stays with the law,” observes Freund, “he presumably has a capacity for rigorous thought and a concern for humane interests. One may be a genius in either rigor or humane concerns but the art is in the combination.”
Though Freund has not undertaken litigation since 1946 when he returned from Washington to Cambridge, he maintains that his is not “an ivory tower job.” He has been active in academic groups across the country and works with members of Congress—for example, Sen. Birch Bayh’s committee on constitutional amendments.
Freund leads a quiet bachelor’s life in his 11th-floor flat on the Charles River. “It’s a large view with a little apartment attached,” he says. From his home he can see Harvard Stadium, scene of his main diversion. “I’m a spectator sportsman,” he says. “I go to football games. It’s the autumn air and the general unpredictability that make them interesting.”
Compared with the revolutionary ’60s, Freund finds students today “more serious and attentive to their studies. At the same time,” he adds, “the spark of divine discontent has not been extinguished. It simply doesn’t produce arson.”
Looking at 1976, he exclaims, “Oh Lord! The Bicentennial year is rough on constitutional law professors. I’ve foolishly committed myself to a number of lectures at universities across the country,” says Freund, who will range even farther afield to speak in Australia early next month.
“I sleep well every night,” he insists. “I dream only of a day that has more than 24 hours.”