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Judge Richard Cudahy Dies, Served 7th Cir. for 36 Years

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 28, 2015 6:59 AM

It was a sad day in the Seventh Circuit last Tuesday, as Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Cudahy died of natural causes in his home. Judge Cudahy, a Carter appointee, joined the circuit in 1979 and served for a total of 36 years, with 15 years on active status. He was 89 years old.

Judge Cudahy was "unusually productive," his Seventh Circuit bio notes. And though he got his start in the U.S. Air Force and later ran a family meatpacking plant, he made his name as an influential jurist and a respected expert on environmental and energy law. He was a great example of "how to combine intellect with compassion," his former clerk Ralph Weber told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

From Lawyering to Meatpacking and Back Again

Judge Cudahy was born in 1926 into a family of meatpacking entrepreneurs in Milwaukee. He would take over the business in 1961, but not before first attending West Point, joining the Navy, and graduating Yale Law School. His time in charge of the family business ended up being a short diversion; he had clerked for the Second Circuit beforehand, worked as a lawyer for the Department of State, and, in 1972, returned to private practice before being appointed to the Seventh Circuit by President Carter in 1979.

On the bench, he was known as a conscientious, committed, and well-read judge. His former clerk, Kathyrn Walter, described him as "an incredibly thoughtful man." She says he made sure to read every one of the briefs submitted to him and "would remember every one of those details and arguments." Even when he moved to senior status in 1994, he continued to decide cases for years. Indeed, FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog regularly reported on Judge Cudahy's decisions up through 2013.

This June, he penned what was described as "the greatest concurrence ever" by Above the Law. It was a single sentence: "Unfortunately [concurring]; and I think the opinion must be stamped with a large 'MAYBE.'"

A Liberal Voice and Energy Law Expert

A former chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Judge Cudahy was a reliably liberal presence on the circuit court. Yet, his clerks remember, he was not closed minded. A former law clerk, Kate Swift, says Judge Cudahy "was known for being a liberal -- but I think more than that, he wasn't dogmatic."

Judge Cudahy was deeply involved in political and civic life. He once ran to be Wisconsin's attorney general -- and lost -- and was President of the Milwaukee Urban League, trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Chairman of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University.

The judge was also a recognized expert on environmental and energy law, penning many scholarly articles in those areas. As Commissioner and Chairman of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, he was deeply involved in public utilities, energy issues, and nuclear power.

A prodigious jurist, he was also a productive father. Judge Cudahy is survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters.

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