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Legendary Judge James Browning Dead at 93

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Emeritus James Browning died on May 5 at a hospital in Marin County, Calif. He was 93.

Judge Browning, who served on the Ninth Circuit for 50 years, including 12 years as the Chief Judge, was the longest-serving appellate judge in the history of the federal judiciary.

Judge Browning is famous for protecting the massive Ninth Circuit, which includes nine states and two territories, from being split into two or three courts, the Los Angeles Times reports. As a result, the court continues to issue appellate decisions for one-fifth of the nation.

Born in Great Falls, Montana, Browning graduated first in his class from the University of Montana School of Law in 1941. He served in the Army during World War II from 1943 to 1946, rising to the rank of first lieutenant and winning a Bronze Star Medal.

In 1958, Chief Justice Earl Warren appointed Judge Browning to serve as Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the clerk, he held the Bible when President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office on January 20, 1961. (He was the last clerk to do so as that later became the task of the President-elect's spouse.) President Kennedy nominated Browning to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1961.

Judge Browning served as an active judge for nearly 40 years. He took senior status in 2000, but continued to hear cases for many more years.

"On the bench, Judge Browning was a distinguished jurist who cared deeply about achieving justice. In judicial governance, he was an innovative administrator, who cajoled the court into the computer age. As importantly, perhaps, he was a genuinely warm and caring human being, famous for the twinkle in his eye, who brightened the lives of everyone around him," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said.

Ninth Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon, who formerly clerked for Judge Browning, noted his progressive attitude toward hiring clerks, saying, "I can still see the twinkle in Judge James Browning's eye the day I interviewed to be his clerk in 1972. He hired me, a woman with a year old child, when most other judges in San Francisco would never have done such a thing at the time. That hiring decision was typical of him."

Browning is survived by his wife, Marie Rose, his daughter, Jeanne Sommer, and three grandchildren, reports the L.A. Times.

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