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Ninth Circuit Icon Judge Harry Pregerson Dies

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 30, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Many Californians know the Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange, but they don't know what the judge had to do with it.

Pregerson, who died at 94, has a legacy in Southern California for stopping the 105 Freeway until construction complied with environmental laws. But his legacy on the court reaches much farther than the freeway.

"He was larger than life," said Dean Kevin Johnson of the UC Davis School of Law.

Larger Than Life

Pregerson was a federal judge for nearly 48 years, and served on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for 36 years, retiring to senior status in 2015. The Los Angeles Times called him "one of the most liberal federal appeals court judges in the nation."

"The hard thing is that I don't have the strength anymore to help people," he told his wife days before he died. He suffered from respiratory ailments, and succumbed at home.

"He was really an icon for justice in many circles," Johnson said. "He defended the voiceless, homeless, poor, the immigrants, gays and lesbians."

During his confirmation hearing, Pregerson told Senators that if he had to choose between the law and his conscience, he would follow his conscience. "My conscience is a product of the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Boy Scout Oath and the Marine Corps Hymn," he said.

In one of his last opinions about a religious statue at a ski resort, he dissented. "A twelve-foot tall statue of Jesus situated on government-leased land cannot realistically be looked upon as 'predominantly secular in nature,'" he wrote.

Law and Conscience

"Harry believed that law was a vehicle by which to provide justice; that law was the means, justice the end," said Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt.

Prior to coming to the federal bench, Pregerson served as a judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, from 1966 to 1967, and the Los Angeles Municipal Court, from 1965 to 1966. He had been private practice in Los Angeles and Van Nuys, California, from 1951 to 1965.

A decorated Marine, he was seriously wounded in the last great battle of World War II. After the war, he earned his bachelor's degree from UCLA in 1947 and his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1950.

He is survived by his wife of 70 years, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Services will be at 1 p.m. Dec. 1, 2017, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

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