One of my biggest regrets is that I never met Stephen F. Williams, a judge in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He and I carried on a number of lively discussions on email starting in 2007. (It might have started a few years earlier.) I had planned to see him on a May trip to D.C. this year, but of course that trip was cancelled. And now he is gone. He died of COVID-19.
This evening I reread all of my emails with him and it made me realize how many things we discussed. The discussions were always good, even when we disagreed, and we often agreed. Also they often went more than one round each.
In recent years, we discussed income inequality, the pros and cons of impeaching Trump, Trump’s overall record, whether there was effectively a quid pro quo in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, net neutrality, and whether he should self-publish his latest book. He sometimes commented on various pieces he had seen by me and my reply led to further discussion.
There were also lighter topics: my telling him that at age 69, I planned to work another 10 years, his telling me that I should make it 20 more, and me saying it’s a deal.
We also talked on the phone a few times.
The way we got to know each other about 15 years ago is a little hazy. It was one of two ways, but either way it involved a draft of his 2006 book on the Russian economy pre-Communism. My wife, Rena Henderson, who edits economists, edited the book for Hoover Press. Either she asked his permission to share sections with me to help her understand some of the economics (she makes sure she doesn’t share her work with me because of potential conflicts of interest), or someone at Hoover Press asked me to look at it. Either way, I was impressed with his work.
Months after that I read a decision he had written for the D.C. Circuit and liked not only his decision and the reasoning that got him there, but also the clarity of his writing. So I wrote him a fan letter, and he responded positively. I don’t have the letter because my computer and back-up hard drive burned in my February 2007 fire. But I have all our correspondence since that time.
I’m still impressed that a man who was on arguably the second most important federal court in America put on no airs and let his intellectual curiosity be his dominant characteristic.