Harry Pregerson

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Harry Pregerson
Harry Pregerson.jpg
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
December 11, 2015 – November 25, 2017
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
November 2, 1979 – December 11, 2015
Appointed byJimmy Carter
Preceded bySeat established by 92 Stat. 1629
Succeeded byDaniel P. Collins
Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California
In office
December 7, 1967 – November 6, 1979
Appointed byLyndon B. Johnson
Preceded bySeat established by 80 Stat. 75
Succeeded byCynthia Holcomb Hall
Personal details
Born(1923-10-13)October 13, 1923
Los Angeles, California
DiedNovember 25, 2017(2017-11-25) (aged 94)
Los Angeles, California
EducationUniversity of California, Los Angeles (B.A.)
UC Berkeley School of Law (LL.B.)

Harry Pregerson (October 13, 1923 – November 25, 2017) was a United States Circuit Judge appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Pregerson was regarded as one of the judiciary's most liberal judges, attracting both praise and criticism for his insistence on placing his conscience above court precedent.

Early life and education[edit]

Pregerson was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, where his father was a postal worker.[1] Both his parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.[2] Pregerson was a United States Marine Corps First Lieutenant in World War II, during which he was severely wounded in the Battle of Okinawa (4 May 1945).[3] After the war, Pregerson attended college on the G.I. Bill.[2] He graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947, and the UC Berkeley School of Law with a Bachelor of Laws in 1950. He was in private practice of law in Los Angeles from 1951 to 1953. He was in private practice of law in Van Nuys, California from 1953 to 1965. Pregerson joined the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1965 and advanced to the Los Angeles County Superior Court the next year, serving until 1967.[4][5]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Pregerson was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 29, 1967, to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, to a new seat created by 80 Stat. 75. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 7, 1967, and received his commission the same day. His service was terminated on November 6, 1979, due to elevation to the Ninth Circuit.[5]

Pregerson was nominated by President Jimmy Carter on August 28, 1979, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to a new seat created by 92 Stat. 1629. He was confirmed by the Senate on October 31, 1979, and received his commission on November 2, 1979. He assumed senior status on December 11, 2015. His service terminated on November 25, 2017, due to his death in Los Angeles.[5]

Judicial philosophy[edit]

Pregerson's judicial philosophy was frequently characterized as liberal. At his confirmation hearing, Pregerson told the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary that "My conscience is a product of the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Boy Scout Oath, and the Marine Corps Hymn. If I had to follow my conscience or the law, I would follow my conscience."[1] The conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt criticized him for "judicial activism" and "rules with his heart instead of his head."[6]

Criminal punishment[edit]

In 1992, Pregerson halted the execution of Robert Alton Harris after the prisoner had been strapped into the gas chamber.[2] The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the execution to proceed two hours later.[2] In 2003, Pregerson refused to follow Supreme Court precedent regarding California's three-strikes law.[4] Pregerson would continue dissenting whenever the court imposed that law.[4]

Involvement in California recall election[edit]

Pregerson was part of a unanimous three-judge panel that ordered the postponement of the 2003 California recall election based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because in the recall, six counties would use the antiquated punched cards voting system.[7] The decision, however, was subsequently overturned by the en banc court of Ninth Circuit.[8] Eventually, the recall was successful in removing Gray Davis from governorship, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became the new governor of California.


Pregerson was a supporter of federalism and favors restraints on the power of federal government. He wrote the majority decision in the Ninth Circuit panel on Gonzales v. Raich, holding that the Interstate Commerce Clause forbade the federal government from interfering with state laws that permitted the use of medical marijuana.[9] The ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court, however, which held that it is within Congressional power to regulate intrastate activities that are seen to influence interstate commerce, including using homegrown marijuana for medical purposes.

Pregerson's first ruling on Raich was based on federalism rather than his opinion on the merit of medical marijuana. In 2007, after Raich was decided by the Supreme Court, Angel Raich sued Alberto Gonzales again for substantive due process violation because the Controlled Substance Law deprived her fundamental right to life. Pregerson ruled against Raich this time, arguing it is still untimely to call using medical marijuana a "fundamental right" that is "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty" as only a minority of states legalized medical marijuana.[10]

In the case United States v. Reynard, the circuit court upheld the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000. Pregerson wrote a dissent, arguing that the act was an unconstitutional exercise of federal power.[11]

Civil procedure[edit]

In 2007, Pregerson authored the panel majority decision that affirmed the class action certification in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a case involving female employees suing Wal-Mart Corporation for gender discrimination. He wrote that although the class action suit had a massive class, "mere size does not render the case unmanageable."[12][13] The decision did not address the employees' claim but only affirmed its class action status. Wal-Mart stated that it would seek an appeal.[14][15] The decision was then reheard by an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, which also narrowly upheld class certification, but certification was ultimately reversed by the Supreme Court.[16]


In 2002 the California Legislature named the freeway interchange between I-110 and I-105 as the "Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange" in honor of Pregerson, the longest-serving judge in the history of the Ninth Circuit. When district judge, he supervised the settlement of the federal lawsuit against the Century Freeway, enabling the construction of the interchange. Judge Pregerson's name is now on signs at the interchange.[17] In 1992 the UCLA Alumni Association awarded Pregerson "Community Service Award" for his efforts helping homeless families to house in Salvation Army shelters.[18]

As a World War II veteran, Pregerson was an advocate for veterans' interests, and has worked on behalf of homeless veterans. In 2001 the Department of Veterans Affairs honored him and the then-Acting Secretary Hershel Gober presented Pregerson with a token of appreciation with the VA seal.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Pregerson was the child of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants.[20] His wife, Bernardine, was a microbiologist.[20] Pregerson's son, Dean Pregerson, is a federal district judge for the United States District Court for the Central District of California.[20] His daughter, Katie Rodan, is a dermatologist and cofounder of a skin-care brand.[2] Pregerson died on November 25, 2017 from respiratory problems.[20]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, Sam (30 November 2017). "Harry Pregerson, Judge Guided by Conscience, Dies at 94". The New York Times. p. B14. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Langer, Emily (30 November 2017). "Harry Pregerson, federal judge who placed conscience before law, dies at 94". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  3. ^ White, Ken (May 4, 2015). "Prenda Law And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Appellate Argument". Popehat. Judge Pregerson — who began the day by announcing it was the 70th anniversary of his battle wound on Okinawa — was relentless.
  4. ^ a b c Cohen, Andrew (30 November 2017). "Longtime Federal Appeals Court Judge Harry Pregerson '50 Dies at 94". Berkeley Law Alumni News. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Harry Pregerson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  6. ^ The Law's Conscience Hugh Hewitt
  7. ^ Ninth Circuit Panel Orders Recall Vote Postponed Until March Metropolitan News
  8. ^ Ninth Circuit gives green light to October 7 election San Francisco Chronicle.
  9. ^ Egelko, Bob (December 17, 2003). "Medical pot wins a legal victory: U.S. appeals court ruling is likely to face a challenge". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on March 13, 2004. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  10. ^ Raich v. Gonzales. US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. No. 03-15481.
  11. ^ United States v. Reynard Ninth Circuit
  12. ^ Dukes v. Wal-Mart Inc. Nos. 04-16688, 04-16720.
  13. ^ "Largest Title VII class certification in US history upheld by Ninth Circuit". Client Alert. Hunton & Williams LLP. February 14, 2007. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  14. ^ Greenhouse, Steven (February 7, 2007). "Court Approves Class-Action Suit Against Wal-Mart". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 19, 2007. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  15. ^ Christie, Jim (February 6, 2007). "Wal-Mart faces historic sex bias case". Reuters. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  16. ^ "Supreme Court Reverses Class Certification in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes: Hurdle Raised for Antitrust Class Certification" Skadden.com Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  17. ^ ACR 142 Assembly Concurrent Resolution Archived 2012-06-30 at Archive.today
  18. ^ Recipient Biography UCLA Alumni Association
  19. ^ "Judge Honored by VA for Work With Homeless Vets". The Third Branch. United States Courts. Archived from the original on July 9, 2001.
  20. ^ a b c d Dolan, Maura (November 26, 2017). "Harry Pregerson, one of the most liberal federal appeals court judges in the nation, dies at 94". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 26, 2017.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 80 Stat. 75
Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California
Succeeded by
Cynthia Holcomb Hall
Preceded by
Seat established by 92 Stat. 1629
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by
Daniel P. Collins