Tracking Louisiana´s Legal Heritage:
 Celebrating 200 Years of the Federal Courts in Louisiana
 
 

District Judge Alvin Benjamin Rubin

Also see:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's speech "Four Louisiana Giants in the Law" where she talks of Judge Alvin B. Rubin


Alvin Benjamin Rubin’s long and storied tenure as a federal judge began with a nomination by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, and ended in 1991 at his death.

Judge Rubin was born in Alexandria, Louisiana in 1920, and received a B.S. from Louisiana State University in 1941. He started at Louisiana State University Law School in 1940. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, was assigned to General Patton’s “Big Red 1,” and served in the European Theatre of Operations in England, France, Belgium, and Germany, rising to the rank of Captain and serving as an Assistant Judge Advocate. After the war ended, he married Janice Ginsberg, also from Alexandria, and returned to Baton Rouge for law school in an accelerated post-war program for returning war veterans. He graduated first in his law school class in 1942 and was Editor-in-Chief of the Louisiana Law Review.

After his graduation, he began practicing law in Baton Rouge with J.Y. Sanders and Ben Miller Sr., and after several years the firm of Sanders, Miller, Downing, Rubin and Kean was formed. Judge Rubin specialized in tax law, corporate transactions, and trust and estates law. He also was an arbitrator and mediator.

Soon after he started practice in 1942, the illness of a faculty member at the LSU Law School propelled Judge Rubin back into the classroom as a professor. Judge Rubin taught a variety of subjects continuously at the Law School until 1989, including Admiralty, Civil Code, Ethics, Negotiations, Constitutional Law, Federal Procedure, State and Local Tax Law, Federal Tax Law, and Law Office Practice, and many others. Judge Rubin’s love of teaching and of student interaction was particularly meaningful to him, and throughout his life Judge Rubin was invited to teach and lecture at schools around the world, including Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, University of Miami, University of Georgia, University of Texas, Tulane, and Duke. He also traveled to give presentations throughout Europe. Because of his expertise in civil law, during the Vietnam War, Judge Rubin was asked by the State Department to travel to South Vietnam and assist in drafting the constitution for South Vietnam. He also served as a moderator for the Aspen Institute and for many programs for the American Bar Association.

In 1963, Judge Rubin and Dean Henry George McMahon co-authored Louisiana Pleadings and Judicial Forms Annotated. For over 20 years, Judge Rubin continued the annual updates for this vital resource used by Louisiana attorneys. Before 1960, Louisiana civil law prohibited the establishment of Trusts. Judge Rubin was instrumental in the creation of a Trust Code for Louisiana, which was adopted by the Louisiana Legislature in 1960. In 1966 he and his wife, Janice, co-authored the Louisiana Trust Handbook, and later, he wrote Louisiana Wills and Trust: A Drafting System (with Professor Gerald LeVan). Judge Rubin’s list of law review and journal articles spans many pages. Two of his most prominent works are “A Causerie on Lawyer’s Ethics” and “Hazards of a Civilian Venturer in Federal Court: Travel and Travail on the Erie Railroad” (both in the Louisiana Law Review).

He then practiced law until 1966 when President Johnson nominated him to a new seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana created by 80 Stat. 75. Judge Rubin served at an important time in the Court’s history, hearing many of the desegregation and civil rights cases in the 1960’s. He served as Chief Judge of the District, and wrote and implemented the first comprehensive written pre-trial procedure rules for the District. He served on and Chaired many committees for the Judicial Conference, and co-wrote the first law clerk handbook for the federal system. Judge Rubin kept long hours and was often in his Chambers early. He always took home briefs to read and drafts of opinions to edit, keeping two secretaries busy at all times.

After eleven years as a judge on the federal district court, Judge Rubin was nominated in 1977, by President Jimmy Carter to fill a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated by John Minor Wisdom. Judge Rubin assumed senior status on July 1, 1989, and served in that capacity until his death in 1991 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In his memory, the Louisiana Law Review published a special edition (Vol. 52, 1992) dedicated solely to his life and work, including articles and remembrances by his wife, Justice Byron White, Judge John Minor Wisdom, Judges Charles Clark, Judge Fred Cassibry, Judge Henry Politz, and many others.

Judge Rubin wrote more than 700 important (and sometimes humorous) opinions during his time as a federal judge. His rulings included ones that ended Louisiana’s exemption of women from juries, applied the Voting Rights Act to local elections, and upheld the rights of government employees to criticize their superiors and to organize union. Judge Rubin’s interests spanned poetry, drama, history, art, the classics, and music of all types. He enjoyed writing Gilbert-and-Sullivan-ish parodies concerning legal matters and performing them for students, clerks, lawyers, at judicial seminars, and even for United States Supreme Court Justices.

The judicial activity that Judge Rubin reportedly most enjoyed was conducting naturalization ceremonies in open court. Judge Rubin spoke not as a jurist but as the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe whose parents had lost many relatives to war and hatred. He spoke movingly of his parents, their courage, and their determination to give their children the education and opportunities they had never had. Judge Rubin always emphasized that those citizens, new though they were, had equal rights. They could vote. They could develop their own talents and those of their children. They were entitled to occupy as well as to stand before the bench of justice.

Judge Rubin also enjoyed the close friendship of his many law clerks (serving as officiant at least one wedding) and was an avid tennis player and jogger, often enlisting law clerks and young lawyers as his tennis or running partner.

Judge Rubin was the first member of the LSU Law Center Hall of Alumni Distinction, and was the First Alumni Member of the LSU Phi Beta Kappa Chapter. He was awarded the Louisiana ACLU Award for his civil rights work and was active in the National Conference of Christians and Jews and his synagogue in Baton Rouge.

Judge John Minor Wisdom wrote that “Alvin Rubin was born to be a judge – a great judge. His intellect, scholarship, and judicial leadership place him in a select group. In recent years, some of this small group graced the Supreme Court: Holmes, Brandeis, and Cardozo…These judges would have welcomed him on equal intellectual terms and as a kindred spirit.”

The Federal Bar Association, New Orleans Chapter hosts an annual symposium in Judge Rubin’s honor. The symposium is an annual discussion on aspects of federal law or practice as a living memorial to Judge Rubin's contribution to federal jurisprudence and legal scholarship. The symposium is well attended by his family, friends, former clerks, and lawyers.

Judge Rubin’s wife, Janice, best summed him up. “[His] friends spanned continents and age barriers . . . . [He] was the jurist he was because he was the man the boy became, a man who remembered Biblical injunctions about relationships and courage, about discipline and standards, about justice and mercy and integrity, a man whose goal on the bench was the oath taken by judges on the Isle of Man: ‘You shall do justice between cause and cause as equally as the backbone of the herring doth lie midmost of the fish.’ ”