Monthly Archives: June 2014

Cornelia Groefsema Becomes a D.C. Circuit Law Clerk (1947)

Judge Cornelia Blanche Groefsema Kennedy, a giant of the federal bench, died last month at age 90 at her Michigan home.

As many have noted, Judge Kennedy was a pioneering woman in the law.  She was born in Detroit in 1923.  Her father was a lawyer and her mother sought to become one.  When Cornelia was only nine, however, her mother, then in her second year of law school, died.

As Cornelia grew up, she more than fulfilled her mother’s aspirations.  Raised by her father and an aunt, Cornelia attended Detroit public schools.  She was a top graduate from Detroit’s Redford High School.  In 1945, she became an honors graduate of the University of Michigan.  In 1947, she earned her law degree at the University of Michigan, the law school that her mother had attended.

Following law school, Cornelia Groefsema—the future Judge Kennedy—broke the first of many professional glass ceilings:  she became the first woman to serve as a law clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit).

Cornelia’s clerkship opportunity developed in part because her sister Margaret also was a legal trailblazer.  She, like Cornelia, had served as an editor of the Michigan Law Review before graduating from Michigan Law School.

In 1945-46, Margaret Groefsema served as a law clerk to U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas F. McAllister of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Judge McAllister, whose chambers were located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was very pleased with Margaret’s work.  In 1947, he sought to hire her sister Cornelia as his law clerk.

Cornelia turned down the offer to clerk for Judge McAllister.  She was, she explained, more interested in clerking in the East.  (I believe that a relationship with a man there was part of the pull.)

Judge McAllister then assisted Cornelia Groefsema in her clerkship hunt.  Through a telephone call to the incumbent law clerk in the chambers of Justice Harold M. Stephens of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., Judge McAllister learned that Judge Stephens soon would need a law clerk.  So McAllister wrote to Stephens, explaining his knowledge of Miss Groefsema and recommending her.

A few days later, Cornelia, obviously coordinating moves with Judge McAllister, mailed her letter of application and resume to Judge Stephens.  Soon thereafter, while visiting Washington, she interviewed with the Judge.

In October 1947, Judge Stephens decided to hire Cornelia Groefsema as his law clerk.  She was his sole law clerk, and excellent at the work, for the duration of the Court’s 1947-1948 term.

Some links—

Judge Kennedy will be remembered this Friday at a memorial service at her church.


A Marietta Tree Leaf

In used book stores, I have the habit of looking for books with inscriptions that others might not notice, decipher or appreciate.

In The Strand last weekend, I found and bought a copy of Walter Lippmann and His Times, a great collection of essays edited by Marquis Childs and James Reston, published by Harcourt, Brace in 1959.

The book, a hardback in good condition, has this inscription on the flyleaf:

For Marietta and Ronny

with love


Having known Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a little bit and having received some of his typed but signed letters, I recognized his handwriting.  His cursive “Arthur,” not entirely legible in this book, was distinctive.  (He authored, in the book, an essay, “Walter Lippmann:  The Intellectual v. Politics.”)

My indirect benefactors are Marietta Tree (1917-1991) and her husband Ronald (1897-1976).

Marietta Tree and Arthur Schlesinger were close friends.  For wonderful traces of that and many other treasures, I highly recommend The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., edited by his sons Andrew and Stephen and published late last year.

For details on Marietta Tree’s full and accomplished life, see, in addition to the Schlesinger letters, her New York Times obituary.  It includes this great, and typically striking, quotation from Arthur Schlesinger:

Her ambition was to be a combination of Mrs. Roosevelt and Carole Lombard.  And that is what she was.

David Ginsburg on the Inequality of Wartime Sacrifice (1944)

David Ginsburg was a 1935 Harvard Law School graduate who became an important New Deal lawyer.  In 1939, his boss William O. Douglas, chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, was appointed to the Supreme Court.  Ginsburg accompanied Justice Douglas as his first law clerk.

In Fall 1939, after Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Ginsburg moved into war-related work in Washington.  In 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.  During the next three years, he served in Europe.

On June 10, 1944—four days after D-Day, and seventy years ago today—Captain Ginsburg in Europe wrote a short letter to Justice Douglas at the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg began by referring to a White Paper that the British Government had published on May 26, 1944.  It outlined policies to maintain high and stable employment in Britain after the war.  “If the White Paper was important on D-10 [i.e., the day of its release, which turned out to be “D minus ten”],” Ginsburg wrote, “I suppose it’s doubly important on D+4.”

In the heart of his letter, Ginsburg wrote this comment about wartime—

We’ve worked really hard during the past few months, but it still doesn’t seem hard enough. The trouble is that war just doesn’t lend itself to any real equality of sacrifice.

David Ginsburg lived until 2010.  It was a long, very consequential life—for the Washington Post’s obituary, click here, and to download a eulogy that I had the honor to deliver at a memorial service, click here.

Ginsburg’s 1944 observation about wartime and, implicitly, about the unequal burdens of military service lives on.  It seems particularly relevant to discussions today about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the quality of care and support that the U.S. owes to those who have made the greatest sacrifices.



I plan to blog here about legal topics, especially about living and deceased people—“lives in the law”—who interest me and connect with my work.  One of course will be Justice Robert H. Jackson, whose biography I am writing.  When I email a new post to my Jackson List, I also will post it here.  (For the Jackson List archive site, click here; to subscribe to the Jackson List, email me at  I also plan to comment here on other legal topics, to advertise events, and to “house” anything else that needs an e-home.  Thanks for your interest.