Liberal Champion Judge Harry Pregerson Dies

Judge Harry Pregerson, a respected liberal voice for 48 years on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and as a trial judge has died at the age of 94 after a brief illness.

Pregerson, one of the most liberal voices on the circuit court, joined the appellate court in 1979 as a nominee of President Jimmy Carter as part of a 10-judge expansion of the nation’s largest appeals court. He served on the court for 36 years.

In 2003, he was on the three-judge panel that ordered postponement of the California recall election of Gov. Gray Davis based on equal protection because six counties were going to use an outdated punch card voting system. The full court’s 11-judge panel overturned the decision, clearing the way for Davis’s recall and election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Many of his rulings upend restraints on the power to the federal government.

In 2007, he wrote the majority decision that upheld class certification of a case against Wal-Mart Stoers by female employees suing the company for gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. The ruling was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Harry Pregerson was unique. There is not likely to be another judge like Harry again,” said Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a colleague and fellow appointee of Carter.

“Harry believed that the law was a vehicle by which to provide justice; that law was the means, justice the end. He always voted his conscience and he always voted for justice. Justice and the people of this nation suffered a great loss when Harry Pregerson died,” said Reinhardt.

Prior to joining the appeals court, President Johnson nominated him to a federal trial judgeship in Los Angeles in 1967 and he served for 12 years.

During his tenure he helped craft a consent decree for Los Angeles’ massive Century Freeway project, providing affordable housing for thousands of people who would be displaced by the freeway, along with job training for women and for child care centers.

He also presided over an environmental suit aimed at ending the discharge of Los Angeles sewage sludge into Santa Monica Bay. His actions led to modernization of major sewage treatment plant, revitalizing marine life in the bay.

Pregerson was raised in East Los Angeles by his Ukrainian immigrant parents and joined the Marines in World War II. In 1945, his Marine company was among the US forces that invaded the Japanese island of Okinawa, the final great battle of the war.

He was seriously wounded in both legs. Following the war he obtained a law degree from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall in 1950 and a undergraduate degree from UCLA.

While off the bench he worked on behalf of veterans in need and the poor in his native Los Angeles. He helped to build homeless shelters, transitional housing, child care centers and job training facilities in some of he cities neediest areas.

“He was at bottom, a Marine,” said Judge Michael Daly Hawkins of Phoenix, a fellow Marine, who joined the court in 1994. “Not just as a warrior, which he certainly was, in a conflict where human freedom was on the line, but also in his lifelong commitment to leave no one behand. He was a fearless champion of the downtrodden, who was unafraid to blunt the hard edges of the law,” Hawkins said.

He is survived by his wife of 70 years and his son, Judge Dean Pregerson, on the federal bench in Los Angeles.


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