Charles Fried, a conservative jurist who, as President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, argued against abortion rights and affirmative action before the Supreme Court, but later rejected the rightward march of the conservative legal movement as “reactionary” to the current high court, died Tuesday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 88 years old.
His death was announced by Harvard Law School, where Fried taught thousands of students beginning in 1961, including a future Supreme Court justice, Stephen G. Breyer, and a future governor of Massachusetts, William F. Weld. .
Fried (pronounced “liberated”) was the son of Jewish parents who fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 to escape Nazism, and whose hopes of returning home after the war were dashed by the fall of the Iron Curtain. He traced his political conservatism both in that context and in the far-left atmosphere that prevailed at Harvard Law School in the 1970s, which, he recalled, included professor-led Marxist study groups.
He became “quite allergic to the left,” Fried said in a law school panel last year. “And that allergy took a form in which I wanted to be more in the opposition. And what better way to be in the opposition than to enter the Reagan administration?”
In 1985, as attorney general (the White House’s representative to the Supreme Court), Fried argued that Roe v. Wade should be recalled. But then he changed his mind. As the high court’s Republican-appointed supermajority seemed likely to overturn Roe, Fried wrote in 2021 in an op-ed for The New York Times: “Overturning Roe now would be an act of constitutional vandalism.”
Their reasoning was that a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, had more firmly established abortion rights than when he opposed it during the Reagan White House.
At last year’s Harvard panel, titled “Why I Changed My Mind,” Fried said his intellectual evolution from conservative to moderate had also been shaped by conversations with his adult children and grandchildren. “We talk and I have to listen as well as talk,” he said. “So, over the course of that, it has changed me.”
Although Fried testified in support of the confirmation of John G. Roberts as chief justice in 2005, he became an outspoken critic of the Roberts court for its rulings limiting voting rights, unions, and campaign finance reform. , as well as for his refusal to limit blatant partisan manipulation.
He called those decisions “reactionary, not conservative,” in the classic sense of conservatism as respect for precedent and belief in incremental rather than radical change.
Justice Breyer, who was appointed to the high court by President Bill Clinton and retired in 2022, suggested in a statement that Fried was willing to change his views because of his innate intellectual honesty.
“Charles loved ideas,” he said. “He tested them with his colleagues and friends, discarding some, developing others and always listening to the thoughts of others.”
Mr. Fried’s academic interests included how moral and political philosophy sheds light on legal problems; He wrote several books on the subject, including “An Anatomy of Values” (1970) and “Right and Wrong” (1978).
Fried, a longtime Republican who for 40 years advised the Harvard chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, was an especially harsh critic of President Donald J. Trump’s disdain for the courts and the law, and of the Justice Department under his deputy. Attorney General, William. P. Barr.
Fried and other Republican and conservative lawyers, members of a group called Checks & Balances, publicly criticized Barr for defending Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and, in 2019, to pressure Ukraine. which led to Trump’s first impeachment trial.
“People who today claim to be conservatives demand loyalty from this completely lawless, ignorant, foul-mouthed president,” Fried told The Times in 2019. He revealed in The Boston Globe in 2016 that I was planning to vote for Hillary Clinton.
During Trump’s second impeachment trial, for inciting an insurrection on January 6, 2021, Fried joined other constitutional lawyers in a statement calling Trump’s defense team’s claims that his conduct was protected by the First Amendment as “legally frivolous.” “
Charles Fried was born Karel Fried in Prague on April 15, 1935, son of Antony and Marta Fried. His father was a senior vice president of Skoda Works, a manufacturer of heavy machinery and weapons. The family fled to England – “with Hitler as my travel agent,” as Fried once said – where they lived for two years before moving to New York City in 1941.
(When the communist government in Prague collapsed in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution, Fried joined other Western lawyers to advise the Czech government on a new constitution.)
After graduating from the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, he earned a bachelor’s degree in modern languages and literature from Princeton in 1956. He studied law and philosophy on a Fulbright scholarship at Oxford University and then graduated from Columbia Law School in 1960. .
He clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan II and in 1961, at age 26, joined the faculty of Harvard Law School. Mr. Breyer was in his first class, criminal law.
The Reagan administration recruited Mr. Fried when he was 50, thanks in part to issue papers he had written for the 1980 Reagan campaign on, among other things, how to express opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in a debate. presidential.
Except for his years as attorney general, from 1985 to 1989, and a term as an associate justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1995 to 1999 (he was appointed by his former student, Governor Weld), Mr. Fried spent nearly 60 years on the faculty at Harvard Law School.
In 1993, while at Harvard, he argued a case before the Supreme Court, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, which established standards for expert scientific testimony in federal courts.
His survivors include his wife, Anne Summerscale, whom he married in 1959; a son, Gregory, professor of philosophy at Boston College; and a daughter, Antonia Fried, a psychologist.
Fried announced his retirement in December, although he said he planned to continue weighing in on current legal and political issues.
“What do I plan next?” he said. “What I always do here, except classes. “I write, I go to workshops, I read my colleagues’ work, I comment on it, and then I write my own work.”
That same month, in a column in The Harvard Crimson, Fried defended the university’s president, Claudine Gay, after she came under fire for her response to anti-Semitism on campus.
He continued to defend her after the attacks expanded to include Dr. Gay’s academic record. She told The Times that she dismissed the plagiarism accusations against Dr. Gay because they were part of a “far-right attack on elite institutions.”
Dr. Gay resigned in January after further pressure and accusations of plagiarism.