The Volokh Conspiracy

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Happy 100th Birthday to Senator, Undersecretary, and Judge James L. Buckley

A remarkable life, with service in all three branches of government.


On Thursday, James L. Buckley turns 100 years old. Most law students will know his name from the seminal case of Buckley v. Valeo. But he did so much more. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy. He was elected as New York Senator on the conservative party ticket. President Reagan appointed Buckley as undersecretary of state for international security. And Reagan latter tapped Buckley as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He is one of the most remarkable public servants of the 20th century. (I would add Judge Silberman to that list.)

I had the honor of meeting Judge Buckley at Justice Thomas's Story Lecture in 2021.I don't get star-stuck easily, but I got star-struck when I shook Judge Buckley's hand. I mentioned that I always teach his case in First Amendment, and he made a comment about the partisans that tried to shut him down.

The Wall Street Journal published an Op-Ed commemorating Buckley's birthday:

The oldest living former U.S. senator turns 100 Thursday. James L. Buckley is among the few in American history who have served in the upper echelons of all three branches of our government.

And there is a proposal to honor Buckley's legacy in my backyard:

Despite his exemplary public service, Mr. Buckley has yet to be honored in the way he deserves. There are public landmarks named for former U.S. senators from New York, including the Moynihan Train Hall, the Javits Center and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. But nothing as yet for Mr. Buckley.

A new bill could change that. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R., N.Y.) has introduced legislation to rename the Staten Island expanses of the Gateway National Seashore for the centenarian who in the early 70s co-sponsored the measure to create this very park. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) is co-sponsoring the bill. Why would an Alaskan want to honor the esteemed New York senator? Mr. Sullivan was an intern in Judge Buckley's chambers and admires him greatly.

As a native Staten Islander, who spent a lot of time at Gateway National park, I wholeheartedly endorse this proposal! Funny story: when I was a kid, my dad was pulled over by the federal park police while driving down Hylan Boulevard near Gateway park. He asked whether the park police even had the power (that is, jurisdiction) to pull us over. My dad said that the federal government has priority over the state government.  That was the first time I realized there was such a thing as the federal government that was different from the local police department. I suppose I owe Judge Buckley some credit for that early lesson in constitutional law.