In Memoriam: Judge Stephen F. Williams

In Memoriam: Judge Stephen F. Williams

U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams died Friday, Aug. 7, of complications from the coronavirus. He was 83. 

A member of The American Law Institute since 1974, Judge Williams served as an Adviser on many of ALI’s projects, most recently on Restatement Fourth of Foreign Relations Law (Jurisdiction) and the ongoing Restatement Fourth of Property and Restatement Third of Conflict of Laws.  

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Judge Williams,” said ALI Director Richard L. Revesz. “His death is a tremendous loss to the legal community and to the ALI. He was an active member of the Institute and an intellectual force on every project on which he participated, significantly raising the level of the discussion with every intervention. I will miss his wisdom and his friendship.” 

Judge Williams served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 1986. He took senior status in 2001, yet continued to carry a full caseload until he turned 80 in 2016.  

In a statement, Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan said, "Judge Williams committed his professional life to teaching, writing, and serving the public, including service on our Court for more than three decades. He had an uncommon love of ideas, an extraordinarily broad-ranging intellectual curiosity, an infectiously good-spirited demeanor, and a joyful sense of humor. We have been immeasurably enriched by the privilege of serving with him."  

Judge Williams was born in New York City on Sept. 23, 1936. He earned his undergraduate degree at Yale College and his law degree at Harvard Law School, both magna cum laude. Before his appointment to the bench, he worked in military intelligence with the U.S. Army Reserve, practiced law at Debevoise & Plimpton, and later served as an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was also an accomplished academic, having taught at the University of Colorado, and as a visiting professor of law at UCLA, the University of Chicago Law School, and Southern Methodist University.  

At his portrait presentation ceremony on October 27, 2006, Judge David S. Tatel spoke about Judge Williams’ life and influence on the law and his colleagues: 

... As a judge who is sometimes called one of this court's more "liberal members" [I am] speaking on behalf of a judge who is sometimes called one of the court's more "conservative members." ... Such labels bandied about by politicians and journalists alike reveal a serious lack of understanding about the nature of judging and the quality of the relationships we enjoy on this court. I am honored to speak here today to celebrate the still evolving career of a superb federal judge, my colleague and friend, Judge Stephen Williams.


Sitting with Judge Williams is always a pleasure. His incisive mind and his deep understanding of the issues before us contribute immensely to the quality of this court's judging. From time to time, we do disagree, but there is no one with whom I'd rather disagree. Steve defends his positions tenaciously and respectfully and gently, but always with an open mind to the views of others. When we disagree, Steve challenges me to think far more deeply about my own positions and to [confront] weaknesses that might otherwise have gone unexamined. On occasion, his reasoning has even changed my mind.

Read the full transcript of the portrait ceremony.  

Read more about his life and legacy at The Washington Post. [Subscription required.]