UC Berkeley’s Choper receives Witkin award
By Amy Yarbrough
For more than 50 years, renowned constitutional scholar
Jesse H. Choper has been inspiring law students and teaching them, as outgoing
State Bar president Jon Streeter put it, “how to think like a lawyer.” Last
month, Choper was recognized for those and myriad other contributions to the
legal profession with the Bernard E. Witkin Medal.
Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at UC Berkeley School of
Law, Choper received the lifetime achievement award on Oct. 12 at the State
Bar's Annual Meeting in Monterey. Established in 1993, the Witkin Medal
recognizes lawyers, judges and legal scholars whose extraordinary work has
helped to shape the legal landscape. Past recipients including Presiding
Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the Second District California Court of Appeal,
former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and Beth Jay, principal
attorney to the Chief Justice of California.
In a recent interview, Choper recalled looking at the list
of past recipients after learning he would be receiving the award and being
very pleased and extremely honored to join the group.
“To be listed with those people ... what can I say? It is
very, very nice,” he said.
Streeter, a former student of Choper’s, presented him with
the award and credited his onetime professor with helping to mold generations
of lawyers and instilling in them the importance of service.
“He truly represents the very best of the legal profession,”
Streeter said. “He is an example to all of us.”
A lecturer, author and expert on constitutional and
corporation law, Choper got his start after law school clerking for Chief
Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court. But he soon discovered his
calling was academia, landing teaching jobs at the Wharton School at the
University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota Law School before
joining the Berkeley faculty in 1965.
“Had he chosen to practice law, I am sure he would have been
among the most distinguished in the country,” Streeter said.
Fellow Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo said he could think
of no other law professor in the state more deserving of the award.
“He is one of the most influential scholars of
constitutional law of his generation, a beloved teacher and colleague …” he
wrote in an email. “Generations of lawyers in California have learned
constitutional law or corporations from him.
“And, most importantly, he loves the sport of kings,” Yoo
said, referring to Choper's interest in horse racing. Choper currently serves
on the California Horse Racing Board.
During his decades at Berkeley, Choper has written numerous
scholarly articles and books including two widely used casebooks, adding to the
fields of constitutional and corporation law, his two main areas of expertise.
He was dean of Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall) from 1982 to 1992 and has been a
visiting professor at a number of universities including Harvard Law School,
the University of Milan and the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Choper was one of three major lecturers at U.S. Law Week’s
Annual Constitutional Law Conference for nearly 20 years and has also lectured
at major universities throughout the country. He has received numerous awards.
including the Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction at Berkeley Law and a James
Wilson Award from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, its most
prestigious alumni award.
His numerous publications include the books, “Judicial
Review and the National Political Process: A Functional Reconsideration of the
Role of the Supreme Court” and “Securing Religious Liberty: Principles for
Judicial Interpretation of the Religion Clauses.”
Judy Gold, a staff attorney with the Public Interest Law
Project who took Choper's popular corporation law class in the late 1970s,
recalled the lecture hall being so full, “there were people hanging from the
Being a woman in law school in the 1970s, Gold said she
“didn't necessarily have a lot of support from her male professors. But
Professor Choper was a huge exception to that.” Choper taught his students to
approach legal problems from every angle, Gold said, and he himself could take
any position on an issue and argue it masterfully.
“Students who attended Boalt and were lucky enough to have him
as a professor were better lawyers for it,” she said. “He is just a phenomenal