Armistead Mason Dobie
A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Dobie received a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1901, an M.A. from the same institution in 1902, and an LL.B. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1904. He was in private practice in St. Louis, Missouri from 1904 to 1907, becoming an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia School of Law in 1907, and a full professor in 1909.
Dobie served in France as assistant chief of staff of the 80th Division of the United States Army during World War I, from 1917 to 1919. Aside from this interruption, he served as law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law from 1909 to 1939, and was dean of the law school from 1932 to 1939. Dobie "is credited with first introducing the case method of instruction to Virginia." He was widely published on a variety of legal and non-legal topics, and was an expert on federal court jurisdiction, and a member of the original drafting committee of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
In his years at the University, Dobie was an enthusiastic and inspirational figure: "Judge Dobie's lectures became public events at the University. His annual Easter lecture became known as the 'Dobie lecture,' and law students often brought dates to the event to hear the master orator working his unique magic with the English language. . . . Judge Dobie had a remarkable spirit and tirelessly involved himself in the events of the University. For instance, Judge Dobie often gave pep talks to the football team before its Homecoming games."
A dispute between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Virginia's senators Carter Glass and Harry F. Byrd, Sr., resulted in the rejection of Roosevelt's recess appointment of Floyd H. Roberts to a newly created seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Dobie was then selected for the position vacated by the Senate's rejection of Roberts, and was nominated to the seat on May 16, 1939. Dobie was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 25, 1939, and received his commission on June 2, 1939.
Then Solicitor General Robert H. Jackson recalled that Roosevelt "thought Glass and Byrd would support Dobie and thereby break the deadlock without loss of face to anybody." Moreover, Roosevelt authorized Jackson to put out the word that Roosevelt would support Dobie for an upcoming vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. When Jackson went to meet with Dobie at the Farmington Country Club, Dobie agreed to the President's offer, and soon thereafter Senators Glass and Byrd offered their support.
Another account relates Judge Dobie's appointment this way: "Years earlier, Roosevelt's son wanted to attend the University of Virginia, and Judge Dobie helped him gain admission. Thus, although Roosevelt had previously promised the next Fourth Circuit opening to Senator Byrnes of South Carolina, the President had to back out of that promise in order to reward Judge Dobie for his efforts on behalf of Roosevelt's son."
Having served only a few months as District Judge, Dobie received a Recess appointment from Roosevelt on December 19, 1939 to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, replacing Elliott Northcott. Formally nominated on January 11, 1940, Dobie's nomination to the Court of Appeals was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 1, 1940, and he received his commission on February 5, 1940. Dobie was succeeded on the District Court by Alfred D. Barksdale.
On the Court of Appeals, Dobie worked with Judges John J. Parker and Morris Ames Soper. Their civil rights decisions included Alston v. School Board. A fourth seat on the Court was not added until 1961. "Judge Dobie sat for over 1400 Fourth Circuit cases, yet he authored only six dissents. However, as a remarkable testament to Judge Dobie's legal mind, the United States Supreme Court adopted the reasoning of four of his six dissents when the Court subsequently overruled the Fourth Circuit majority in those particular cases."
Dobie took senior status on February 1, 1956, continuing in that capacity until his death, in 1962, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was succeeded on the Court of Appeals by Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr. "A bachelor until just four years before his death, Judge Dobie spent his entire life thoroughly engrossed in the noble endeavor to learn, interpret, and apply the law to the daily lives of the people who came before his court. Apparent from his many decisions, the praise of his colleagues, and the admiration of the students he taught, Judge Dobie's love of the law permeated and influenced countless lives. As John S. Battle, the former Governor of Virginia and student of Judge Dobie, stated at a memorial for Judge Dobie in the Fourth Circuit courtroom in 1963, 'Judge Dobie is not dead; thousands of students of the law who sat at his feet will not forget him, and the learned opinions he wrote while a member of [the Fourth Circuit] will not die.'"
Notes and references
- "Virginia Teaching: The Early Years". University of Virginia Law School. Archived from the original on 14 November 2007. Retrieved October 25, 2007.
- "Remembering the Fourth Circuit Judges: A History from 1941 to 1998," 55 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 471, 491-93 (Spring 1998).
- Jackson, Robert (2003). That Man: An Insider's Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Oxford University Press (accessed via Google Books). ISBN 0-19-516826-7.
- "Alston v. Norfolk (4th Cir. 1940)". Brown@50. Retrieved October 25, 2007.
- Armistead Mason Dobie at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- University of Virginia Law School, Inventory of the Papers of Armistead Mason Dobie