Former Judge Arlin Adams, who died Dec. 22, 2015, said in a 1999 interview, “The law is a majestic profession; and it will bring great happiness to somebody who takes it very seriously.” While he remained a simple, unassuming man, he traveled in rarified circles with presidents, Supreme Court justices, governors and titans of the bar and industry. There was no doubt he took the law very seriously, claiming he was “kind of conservative,” that “precedent was extremely important” and that he was “very reluctant to disturb legislative judgments.” He admitted he “was open to new ideas” and a “progressive” if it made sense and could be intellectually defended.

After clerking for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Horace Stern, Adams practiced law from 1947 until 2012—returning after his time on the bench—at the same law firm, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, almost unheard of these days. He served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1969 to 1987. Over those 18 years, he authored 454 opinions of the court. Only three of his opinions were unpublished and designated not precedential. He took the law seriously, believing in carefully crafted, thoughtful decisions that would fairly inform the litigants and serve as citable precedent for the bench and bar. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said that when he was a law clerk for the Third Circuit, “I studied his cases. I dreamed of one day being a judge that could be as good as he was.” It should be no surprise to know that Adams was three times considered for nomination as a justice of the Supreme Court. Namely, he was considered by President Richard Nixon, who gave the nod instead to William Rehnquist; by President Gerald Ford, who went with John Paul Stevens; and by President Ronald Reagan, who decided on Anthony Kennedy.

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