Jack Miller, 1924-2009

I have known only a few great lawyers, and one of them was Jack Miller, a/k/a Herbert J. Miller, Jr., “poor old Miller” (how he referred to himself), and “Nixon’s lawyer.”  He died over the weekend, and should be remembered. 


Jack’s achievements as a lawyer were remarkable.  He argued and won important Supreme Court cases.  He led the Criminal Division of the Justice Department when Bobby Kennedy was Attorney General, taking on the Teamsters Union and organized crime.  He guided many Kennedys through many tight spots, beginning with Chappaquiddick.  And, perhaps most famously, he got the pardon for President Nixon and then fought tenaciously to protect Nixon for two decades.

Jack was an endlessly inventive lawyer, always looking for a new angle on a problem, compulsively turning over the facts and the law, like some jurisprudential Rubik’s cube.  Once, we drove to New Jersey (in his souped-up “yellow bomb” of a car) for a hearing on a Fourth Amendment issue.  For three hours, he drove me nuts with questions about why couldn’t we make a Fifth Amendment claim?  Or maybe a Sixth?  By the time we arrived, I was totally exhausted.  He was a bit annoyed that all we seemed to have was a Fourth Amendment theory.  He wanted to chew over those theories again at dinner.

He had a great disposition for a lawyer.  I’ve never known anyone who enjoyed his wins as much as Jack did.  For years and years afterward.  And yours!  If you won something, he’d come down to your office and sit with you for half an hour, listening to your war story and swapping a few of his own.

But as good a lawyer as he was, he was a better man.  He founded the firm I was with for almost ten years, Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, where he was always the senior partner.  He connected with everyone, made lousy puns — but punning, he would point out, is an underappreciated art — and kept a spirit of fun in his life, and ours. 

He loved farming, starting to think about the coming crops in mid-winter, then dragooning the office help to bring in the alfalfa in late summer. He could talk for a long time about the pleasures of a back-end loader (no puns, please), and, well, he did.  Even for a city kid with zero interest in agriculture. it was fun to talk farming with Jack, because he was so enthusiastic about it.

His enthusiasm was his greatest gift.  To get a taste of it in his own words, you can check out his oral history (no puns, please) at the website of the Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

So long, Jack.  We’ll miss you.

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