Bench Memos

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Victor G. Rosenblum and the Path to Victory Over Roe


Northwestern University School of Law Professor and pro-life legal scholar Victor G. Rosenblum died last night at the age of 80.

I’ll always remember an offhand comment that his fellow professor, Steve Calabresi, once made to me when I was a student of them both: “I think Victor might be a saint.” He might be right.

Edward R. Grant, Northwestern Law class of 1982, a member of the Board of Immigration Appeals and former president of Americans United for Life, today offered a remembrance of Victor that is worthy of reflection and particularly timely in the current legal, political, and moral climate. Ed recalls Victor’s role in “the most important pro-life legal victory since Roe v. Wade in 1973″:

Victor Rosenblum was a giant in many fields–political science, administrative and constitutional law, and legal education–but a prophet in one: defending the human rights of the unborn, the handicapped infant, and the infirm aged at risk of medical neglect–and worse.

Holder of joint appointments in law and political science at Northwestern University, his former students include judges, members of Congress, leading legal academics, and, not to be missed, a healthy segment of the current generation of leaders in the pro-life movement. (Among his great regrets was his inability to talk NU alum Richard Gephardt out of de-camping to the pro-abortion cause in order to feather his presidential ambitions.) He led the Association of American Law Schools, taught in Communist Beijing and Catholic Louvain, and spoke out in defense of Humanae Vitae while serving as president of the crunchy Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Shortly after that, this son of the Bronx returned to his adopted and beloved Evanston, and to Northwestern Law’s scenic perch on Lake Shore Drive. Pro-life leaders in Chicago, such as Dr. Eugene Diamond, and the late attorney Dennis J. Horan and physician Herbert Ratner, took notice and brought him into their band of brothers, fighting what they knew to be an uphill struggle in the pending case of Roe v. Wade.

After the debacle of January 22, 1973, they brought a fledgling Washington organization, Americans United for Life, to the Windy City, and nurtured it to its present status as the leading think tank and law firm of the pro-life movement. AUL’s first landmark case was defense of the Hyde Amendment, and state versions of it, in federal courts in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.
Rosenblum was hardly anyone’s stereotype of a pro-lifer, he was a fluent guide to the intricacies of substantive due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. AUL chairman Horan named him to argue the Hyde case when it reached the Supreme Court. Ironically, Victor faced there his Northwestern colleague Robert Bennett, a fervent opposition at the bar that did nothing to tarnish their mutual respect and deep friendship.

Victor’s win in that case, in which the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment, is still the most important pro-life legal victory since Roe v.
Wade in 1973. In Horan’s words, had the case been lost (and taxpayers compelled to pay for abortions under Medicaid), so would the entire pro-life legal cause. The litigation brought an outpouring of his gracious spirit:
to Congressman Hyde, to his fellow attorney on the case, and not least to his opponents. Without a word of preaching, Victor set an example of love and patience for all who labored with him in the cause of life. No bitterness, no hatred, no despair.

As Victor constantly pointed out, his legal convictions and accomplishments were shared by many. But what no one could match was his sui generis witness to the social injustice of abortion on demand.

He was a liberal Democrat, unflinching in opposition to pro-abortion mutation of his party. He was a Reform Jew, faithfully adherent to the guidance of his rabbi in all matters but one. He was the father of eight children, all accomplished, including the youngest, Joshua, born with Down Syndrome in an era where sage counsel said to do as little as possible for such children. Victor Rosenblum revolted at this notion, giving unique force to his advocacy against the medical neglect of such infants. In later years, his continuation of teaching and writing in the midst of painful chronic illness, dialysis, and eventual loss of mobility, added further inspiration to those who knew him.

On a popular Chicago late night show in the 1970s, Victor was asked what would happen when the tumult over Roe subsided, and Americans simply accepted abortion. ‘That,’ said he, ‘would be the saddest day in American history.’ Victor Rosenblum worked tirelessly, and inspired a generation of pro-life attorneys, to ensure that the day he feared most would never dawn in America.


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