Jay Rabinowitz (jurist) : biography
Jay Andrew Rabinowitz (February 25, 1927 – June 16, 2001) was an American lawyer, jurist, and Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court four non-consecutive terms (1972–1975, 1978–1981, 1984–1987, 1990–1992) remaining active as a justice from February 1965 to February 1997.
Early life and career
Rabinowitz was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Jewish-American family. His paternal grandfather had emigrated from Riga, Latvia to Woodbine, New Jersey at age fourteen, leaving his own family behind. Jay Rabinowitz grew up in Brooklyn, New York where his father, Milton, a 1922 graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, worked as a bookkeeper for a wholesale fish distributor during the Great Depression.
Jay served in the U.S. Army Air Forces near the end of World War II. During his service overseas Rabinowitz happened to meet his great-uncle Chaim, whom he'd never before met, in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Chaim was the family's only relative in Europe who had survived the Holocaust. Following some careful forgery of paperwork, Chaim was able to join his relatives in Brooklyn after the war ended.
After returning home, Jay Rabinowitz attended Syracuse University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949.
He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1952 and was admitted to the bar in New York State the same year. After practicing law in New York City for five years, Rabinowitz moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, accepting a position as law clerk to U.S. Territorial Court Judge Vernon Forbes in 1957. Later that year, he met and married Anne Nesbit. The couple remained together until Rabinowitz's death in 2001.
In 1958, Rabinowitz was admitted to the Alaska Bar Association and clerked for the United States District Court in Fairbanks. He was appointed Superior Court Judge in Fairbanks in 1960.
Alaska Supreme Court
Following his appointment by Governor Bill Egan, Rabinowitz was sworn in as an Alaska Supreme Court justice on March 4, 1965. Rabinowitz remained on the state Supreme Court until February 28, 1997, having reached the mandated retirement age of 70 for judges in Alaska, Article 4 of the Alaska Constitution during which time he served four non-consecutive three-year terms as Chief Justice. (The Alaska Constitution prohibits consecutive terms as Chief Supreme Court Justice.)
During his time on the bench, Rabinowitz wrote more than 1,200 court opinions, 200 of them dissenting. He was a strong and articulate voice for safeguarding the civil liberties of Alaskans. He wrote landmark opinions in cases involving privacy, reproductive freedom, search and seizure, self-incrimination, and free speech.Feldman, J. and Orlansky, S., "Justice Rabinowitz And Personal Freedom: Evolving A Constitutional Framework," 15 Duke-Alaska Law Review 1 (June 1998). He was particularly sensitive to the ways in which the law affected the legal rights of Alaska Natives and authored several noteworthy judicial opinions that respected Native traditions in areas of family rights and adoption, education, and law enforcement.
Rabinowitz's law clerks included Stephan Williams, Michelle Stone, Mark Regan, Becky Snow, Susan Burke, Mark Ashburn, Peter Mozarski and Andrew Kleinfeld, now a judge of Ninth Circuit. Andrew Kleinfeld
Beginning in 1971, Rabinowitz also served on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, where he headed three drafting committees and served on numerous others.
Death and legacy
Rabinowitz died June 16, 2001 at the age of 74 from complications of leukemia in a Seattle hospital. In remembrance of him, Governor Tony Knowles ordered Alaska state flags to be lowered to half-staff for five days. Said Knowles,
"Jay Rabinowitz devoted his life to the law.... He began his career when Alaska was a young state. His steady, thoughtful manner resulted in a body of law that will have a lasting impact on Alaska as we know it. I personally sought his guidance and input on a number of critical issues facing our state. I will miss his sense of humor and his integrity. Jay's legacy will not be forgotten."
The Rabinowitz Courthouse in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska is named after him.
Rabinowitz was a competitive athlete, and pursued both tennis and skiing throughout his life, taking up long-distance running in middle age. He and his wife, Anne, had four children: Judy, a lawyer practicing in California; Mara, a public defender in Alaska; Max, an oncologist practicing in Alaska; and Sarah, a social worker residing in Alaska. His brother is Robert Rabinowitz (artist), creator of Beatlemania (musical); his cousins include media contributor, Seth Rabinowitz, and Barrie Cassileth (Barrie Rabinowitz).
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