Scholar, Teacher, Mentor, Friend

November/December 2002

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When Gerald Gunther was a young instructor of political science and constitutional law at Brooklyn College and City College in New York, he wanted to know more about the unfamiliar legal terms in the textbooks he was using. So he decided to continue his own studies. “I really viewed law school as one thinks of castor oil: an unpleasant experience that would be good for me,” he told Stanford Lawyer in 1974.

Gunther went on to graduate from Harvard Law School magna cum laude and become one of the country’s foremost authorities on constitutional law. He died July 30 of lung cancer at his campus home. He was 75.

Growing up in 1930s Germany, Gunther had his first exposure to questions of free speech when his first-grade teacher called him a “Jew pig.” His family emigrated to New York in 1938, and he earned degrees at Brooklyn College and Columbia University before going to Harvard. He then clerked for federal appellate judge Learned Hand—about whom he would later spend 20 years writing an award-winning biography—and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. While teaching at Columbia Law School, Gunther mentored a future justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1962, and was himself frequently mentioned as a candidate for the high court during the 1970s and ’80s.

Gunther “was a beloved teacher to four decades of law students,” says Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan. In the weeks after his death, colleagues and former students paid tribute to him on a Law School website. “Gerald Gunther was a wonderful con law teacher,” wrote Michael Melcher, JD/MBA ’94. “But what I remember most is his fondness for merriment and wordplay, which he displayed each year at the time of the Law School musical. Not only did he attend each performance, but he also cheerfully participated: in 1991, he played himself; and in 1992, he played God! Both were very suitable roles for Professor Gunther.”

Gunther is survived by his wife of 53 years, Barbara; two sons, Andrew and Daniel, JD ’83; two grandchildren; and his brother, Herbert Gutenstein.

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