After 53 years as a federal judge in Brooklyn, Jack B. Weinstein is retiring. He still has a stubborn belief in the American future.
For more than half a century, Judge Jack B. Weinstein was the quintessential activist jurist, using his longtime perch on the federal bench in Brooklyn to champion causes like gun control and school desegregation. In his career — one of the longest in American legal history — he carved out a niche as both a liberal hero and, not surprisingly, a bane for conservatives.
Last week, at age 98, Judge Weinstein announced his retirement, saying he no longer had the stamina to perform his daily duties. In an interview with The New York Times, he looked back over a tenure so packed with accolades that his résumé now runs to more than 70 pages. He said his unremitting hope and faith in the judicial system remained intact even in the current polarized political climate.
“I’m convinced our country is bound to equalize, democratize and to save with love, not hate,” he said.
Born in Kansas in 1921, Judge Weinstein earned his law degree in 1948 from Columbia University after playing bit parts on Broadway and serving as a submarine officer in the Pacific theater during World War II.
In his early years as a lawyer, he helped write legal briefs in the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. After he was named to the bench in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, he presided over groundbreaking mass tort cases involving the use of asbestos and the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.
At the height of his career, Judge Weinstein, who is known for his impressive eyebrows and his iconoclastic temperament, handled several high-profile Mafia cases, including the prosecution of Vincent Gigante, known as the Chin, the former boss of the Genovese crime family. A stickler for propriety, Judge Weinstein once ordered the mob don, famous for dressing in his bathrobe, to shower and spruce up when he came to court.