Obituary: Stephen Reinhardt

Passionate and principled "liberal lion" of American justice


He was dubbed the “liberal lion of American jurisprudence,” but Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who has died aged 87, was as outspoken on Jewish as on legal issues,

He died of a heart attack during a visit to a Los Angeles dermatologist, according to a spokesman for the US 9th Circuit of Appeals, on which Reinhardt served from his appointment by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 until his death.

“Reinhardt was deeply principled, fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions. He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench,” Chief Judge Sidney K. Thomas of the 9th Circuit – whose jurisdiction includes the Western United States, Alaska and Hawaii –- told the Los Angeles Times. His rulings were frequently overturned by a more conservative US Supreme Court, to which Reinhardt responded that he was not about to help the Supreme Court take away the rights of citizens.

Among his more controversial decisions was that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were unconstitutional, as were bans on same-sex marriage and physician-assisted suicide.

Reinhardt was born in New York as Stephen Shapiro, but changed his name when his mother divorced his father and married Gottfried Reinhardt, screenwriter, director and producer (The Red Badge of Courage, Town Without Pity), who introduced the boy to the Hollywood community.

Stephen Reinhardt’s even more famous grandfather was Max Reinhardt, who revolutionized the German stage and then created Hollywood Bowl spectacles after fleeing Hitler.

This trauma also deeply affected Stephen Reinhardt, and he spoke passionately about Jewish issues, unusual for a judge and a man of his standing.

His first wife, Maureen Kindel, told Citizen Magazine in an interview that her husband –“thinks about his Jewish heritage a lot, very much so. He also thinks about the discrimination against Jews that he suffered when he was younger. I’m sure that has formulated his views about being protective of people’s rights.”

In 1990, in an address to the City Club of Los Angeles, labelled “provocative” by the media, Reinhardt maintained that Jews were drastically under-represented on the US Supreme Court, adding that if some were added – “the result would be a better, kinder and gentler nation.”

Reinhardt is survived by his wife, Ramona Ripton, longtime former head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California; three adult children, Mark Reinhardt, a political science professor; Justin Reinhardt, a musician; and Dana Reinhardt, a novelist, and seven grandchildren

Tom Tugend

Stephen Reinhardt: born March 27, 1931. Died March 29, 2018

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