(From the April 2011 Issue)
Judge William J. Bauer has served for 36 years on the United States Court for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. As we sat with him in the anteroom to his courthouse chambers, however, he was careful to point out that he is a judge, not a justice, and - as he sees it - an inferior judge at that. The title of "Justice," he said, is used in the federal court system only for the Justices of the Supreme Court. "It’s the same in the Illinois court system," he added. "When the current Illinois Constitution was ratified, people at the time thought it made sense to call the appellate court judges ‘Justice’ and that got to be the practice. But, if you read the Constitution, it refers to them as appellate court judges."
He took his copy of the Constitution out of his jacket pocket and started to read. "Under Article 3, Section 1, he said, "‘The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain.’ So, I’m an inferior judge working in an inferior court."
We met with this particular "inferior judge" soon after a plaque had been mounted outside the DuPage County court annex naming the building after him. He earned this honor through a career in the law that has spanned over 50 years.
"I was born in 1926," he said as we talked that afternoon about the law, politics and the state of the economy. "I grew up in the 1930s. You think this is a problem? Then we were sitting around. People were really afraid that Roosevelt could become a dictator and he could have if he wanted to. We were paralyzed. We had 26% unemployment and women were not a big factor in that, because there weren’t that many women employed. If you’d run the same statistics now, you’d be up to 45-50% unemployment. Foreclosures? The first thing Roosevelt did was extend mortgage foreclosures so you couldn’t foreclose for 18 months. He put a freeze on foreclosures, which meant that the guy who owned the mortgage, got stuck for a year and a half. The problem then was far more acute then it is now. Now we’re coming out of it. Then, it took the Second World War to get us out of it."
Judge Bauer served in the Army from 1945 to 1947. When his service ended, he enrolled at Elmhurst College where he graduated before earning his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1952. After working in private practice and as an Assistant States Attorney, he served as DuPage County States Attorney from 1959 to 1964. He served as a Circuit Judge in DuPage County from 1964 to 1970, and as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 1970 to 1971. Then in 1971, President Richard Nixon named him for a seat on the District Court. Three years later, President Gerald Ford chose him to succeed Judge Otto Kerner on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He served as Chief Judge in the Seventh Circuit from 1986 to 1993 and assumed senior status in 1994.
In the early 1960s, he served as President of the DCBA, an organization to which he continues to contribute. Just last year, in fact, he gave a presentation to DCBA members on Civility in the Seventh Circuit. In the last few months, he has heard from many in the bar who are involved in putting together a celebration in his honor. "It’s all been grand to hear," he said, "grand to hear. I’ve seen the building, of course. I go out there fairly frequently. I’m out there a few times each year for the continuing education programs, or to conduct one program or another for the bar. You can take the boy out of DuPage County, you know but me, I still live there. I live in the same house I’ve lived in for 39 years. I graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst and Elmhurst College. I married a girl that went to the college and lived in town."
"I saw the building a few weeks ago," he continued, framing a small square in the air with his hands, "and I saw the sign. I thought it was going to be a plaque about this big, but it’s not. It’s great."
Judge Bauer learned that the William J. Bauer Judicial Office Facility Annex was a likelihood well in advance of the vote. Then County Board Chairman, Robert J. Schillerstrom contacted him to let him know. "He said that one of his last acts of the year was going to be this," Judge Bauer explained. "One of the things that the chairman of a county board learns is how to count votes before he puts something up to a vote. So he told me he was going to propose it, that he wanted me to know ahead of time, and that he had every reason to believe it would pass, which meant he had counted the votes ahead of time. It was unanimous, if I recall correctly, so I was pleased. I was very pleased. Schillerstrom called me, and I was there the day they passed it. I was sitting in the room. He invited me in, so I was in sitting there and heard the roll call. It was quite a moment. I thank them kindly."
As we wandered through the halls on our way to take the cover portrait for this issue, Judge Bauer had a great many stories to tell. He talked about some of the decisions he’d made as a judge ("I have some strong stands that I’ve taken on the First Amendment that I’ve taken over the years"), about his interest in golf ("I used to golf, until I stopped"), and about why federal appointments tend to come from the U.S. Attorney’s office ("They try cases. The civil attorneys that try cases, the Corboys and the Cliffords, turn it down for money reasons"), and he talked about how different things were over the years. "You’ll be interested to know," he said to our photographer, "that when I was first up here, President Nixon came to see a group of people becoming citizens. Everyone thought that would be great, it would be something people would remember for the rest of their lives. We showed them the Ceremonial Courtroom where it would be and they wanted to take pictures of the President in there during the ceremony. The chief judge said ‘no.’ When they said, ‘but it’s the President,’ he said, ‘well, there’s this thing called separation of powers.’ They ended up moving the ceremony."
The ceremony in honor of Judge Bauer and the building now named after him has not yet been scheduled. In the meantime, though, if you want to raise a glass in his honor, we recommend the Glenfiddich 18 year. Of the various items around his office, including hundreds of books, souvenirs and memorabilia, Judge Bauer was particularly proud of his collection of single malt scotch bottles. "There’s no duplicates here," he said, as he pointed out a few particularly interesting labels. "The first time I tasted Single Malt Scotch was in England. I was over there on a conference. We spent five days reading Winston Churchill. There was a formal event, black tie and all, and they were serving 69 scotch. Now, I don’t know if you’re a scotch drinker, but I’d put that 69 high on my list. I’m talking to two Scottish psychiatrists and they saw I liked scotch and they said, ‘come with us.’ So we went and I tasted my first Glenfiddich. I asked them where I could buy it and they told me I could get it in Scotland. I said I wanted to buy it in the United States and they said again, Scotland. They didn’t export it at the time. I didn’t see it again until 1976 when I went to an event and they had little bottles of Glenfiddich at every table."