Abstract

Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr. assumed the office of federal district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia in August of 1967. Upon discovering that federal judges had lifetime tenure, Merhige's father advised: "Take the job. You'll live forever." Neither the elder Merhige nor any observer could have foreseen the turbulence that would engulf Judge Merhige's life on the bench. Two weeks after his appointment, Merhige was faced with government efforts to silence militant black leader H. Rap Brown. Soon thereafter Merhige confronted numerous civil rights and anti-war issues, gaining some immediate notoriety as the first federal judge to declare that the Vietnam conflict was a war within the meaning of the Constitution. Throughout his twenty-year career, Judge Merhige has attracted national attention with a docket full of landmark cases. A small sampling includes the "Kepone" pollution case, in which Merhige imposed the largest recorded criminal fine under federal anti-pollution laws; the "Westinghouse Uranium" case, in which Merhige became the first federal judge to hold court outside the United States; and the still pending bankruptcy proceedings centering around the Robins Pharmaceutical Company, manufacturer of the Dalkon Shield. A forthcoming authorized biography recounts the highlights of Judge Merhige's controversial career. Excerpted in this article are two chapters dealing with the most notorious and turbulent period of Merhige's tenure. Merhige's candid reflections upon school integration and court-ordered busing reveal a major participant's perspective of a dramatic stage in this country's history.

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Spring 1987

Included in

Judges Commons

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