Levi, Edward Hirsch


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Levi, Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch Levi served as U.S. attorney general from 1975 to 1976. A prominent and respected lawyer, scholar, and teacher, Levi became attorney general following the Watergate scandals and the resignation of President richard m. nixon. Levi helped to restore respect and public confidence in the Justice Department, which had become deeply politicized during the Nixon administration.

Levi was born June 26, 1911, in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1932 and earned a law degree there in 1935. He was a Sterling Fellow at Yale University in 1935 and 1936, and received a degree of Doctor of Juristic Science (J.S.D.) from Yale in 1938. Levi was named an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago in 1936, the year he was admitted to the Illinois bar. From 1940 to 1945, he took a leave of absence from the university to serve as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney general. During that period, he served in the Antitrust and War Divisions and was chairman of the Interdepartmental Committee on Monopolies and Cartels. His time in government service helped to make him an expert on Antitrust Law.

Levi returned to the University of Chicago Law School in 1945 as a professor. In 1949, he published Introduction to Legal Reasoning, a classic work of Legal Education that has been used by thousands of students. He was named dean of the law school in 1950 and provost of the university in 1962, and was appointed president of the university in 1968.

During those years, Levi remained an active participant in government. He was an adviser and counsel to the Federation of Atomic Scientists and in 1946 helped draft the Atomic Energy Act (60 Stat. 755 [42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2011 et seq.]), which led to the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1950, he was appointed chief counsel to the Subcommittee on Monopoly Power of the House Judiciary Committee. In that position, he conducted hearings on monopolistic practices in the steel and newsprint industries. During the administration of President lyndon b. johnson, Levi was a member of the White House Central Group on Domestic Affairs and of the White House Task Force on Education.

In February 1975, President gerald r. ford appointed Levi as attorney general of the United States. Ford had assumed the presidency after Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The scandal initially revolved around Nixon's role in covering up a break-in and electronic bugging of Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building complex in Washington, D.C. But investigations soon revealed that Nixon had used the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service, and Central Intelligence Agency to pursue his political enemies. During that period, the Department of Justice came under heavy attack. It appeared that the department either was aiding in the cover-up or that it was incompetent in pursuing the truth.

The appointment of Levi restored confidence in the department. Because of his impeccable credentials and lack of partisanship, Levi was able to restore morale to the shaken organization and to institute internal reforms that might prevent future scandals. He did this, in part, by issuing policies that restricted the FBI's ability to be exploited for political investigations.

Following Jimmy Carter's defeat of Ford in the 1976 presidential election, Levi returned to the University of Chicago as a professor of law. He retired from full-time teaching in 1985 and was appointed professor emeritus.

"The basic pattern of legal reasoning is reasoning by example … in which a proposition descriptive in the first case is made into a rule of law and then applied to a next similar situation. A method … necessary for the law, but [with] characteristics which under other circumstances might be considered imperfections."
—Edward H. Levi

Levi died on March 7, 2000 in Chicago.

Further readings

"The Legacy of Edward Levi; Legendary Former AG Helped Restore Justice Department's Credibility After Watergate." 2000. Legal Times 23 (March 13).

Sonnenschein, Hugo F. et al. 2000. "In Memoriam: Edward H. Levi (1912–2000)." University of Chicago Law Review 67 (fall): 971–993.