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It all started with legal research. When Shirley Hufstedler graduated near the top of her class at Stanford Law School in 1949, the school’s only employment recommendation was a secretarial job at a probate firm in Santa Barbara, California. Rejecting that path, Hufstedler developed a practice researching and ghostwriting briefs for established-and male-lawyers. More than five decades later, it’s still about the research. When Hufstedler, 82, isn’t in her office at Morrison & Foerster, colleagues know to check the library. “Most of us don’t aspire to be as actively involved in the practice after 50 years,” says Morrison & Foerster partner Dan Marmalefsky, “but Shirley goes into the library, does her own research, and is still writing briefs today.” Meticulous research has been a hallmark of Hufstedler’s career, in private practice, in the judiciary, and as the nation’s first secretary of Education. In the fifties, her work with one of her former law school professors on briefs in a water rights case caught the eye of then-California attorney general Edmund “Pat” Brown, who hired her as his special consultant. When Brown became governor, he appointed Hufstedler a superior court judge in Los Angeles in 1961. There, Hufstedler made her name by issuing tentative rulings before cases were argued in court. Retired Los Angeles superior court judge Philip Saeta says the practice, which is still used today, saves time. “Before, attorneys would come in and argue without knowing what the judge was thinking, and it was incredibly inefficient,” he says. A series of judicial appointments followed, culminating with President Lyndon Johnson’s appointment of her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “Her opinions are like literary works, and she wasn’t just playing to the history books,” says Los Angeles superior court judge Helen Bendix, who clerked for Hufstedler on the Ninth Circuit. “She worked just as hard on the smallest Social Security case as she did on the largest class certification.” At the Ninth Circuit, Hufstedler became known for her dissent in Lau v. Nichols, in which the court determined that the failure of the San Francisco school system to provide language services for non-English-speaking Chinese immigrants did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. “These children,” Hufstedler wrote, “are more isolated from equal educational opportunity than were those physically segregated blacks” in Brown v. Board of Education. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overruled the Ninth Circuit’s decision in 1974. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed Hufstedler to head the newly created U.S. Department of Education. “It was 18-to-20-hour days, seven days a week,” she says. “When Carter’s term ended, I went home with gratitude.” With gratitude, yes-but not to leisure. In 1981, after two decades in public service, Hufstedler returned to life as a law professor and private practice with her husband, former American Bar Association president Seth Hufstedler. And she says that retirement is not imminent. After all, there’s still research to be done. Back to Main Story

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