Robert W. Sweet

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Robert Workman Sweet
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Assumed office
March 1, 1991
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
April 28, 1978 – March 1, 1991
Appointed by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Inzer Bass Wyatt
Succeeded by Harold Baer Jr.
Personal details
Born Robert Workman Sweet
(1922-10-15) October 15, 1922 (age 95)
Yonkers, New York
Education Yale University (B.A.)
Yale Law School (LL.B.)

Robert Workman Sweet (born October 15, 1922) is an American jurist, and currently a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Education and career[edit]

Born on October 15, 1922, in Yonkers, New York,[1] He was in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant (j.g.) from 1943 to 1946. Sweet received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944 from Yale University and obtained a Bachelor of Laws from Yale Law School in 1948. He was in private practice from 1948 to 1955 in New York City. From 1953 to 1955, he was an Assistant United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York. He was Counsel for the New York State Interdepartmental Task Force on Youth and Juvenile Delinquency in 1958. He was the executive assistant to the mayor of New York City in 1966. He served as the deputy mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1969,[2] and then was in private practice with the global New York law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom from 1970 to 1978. Additionally, he was a consultant for the Association for a Better New York in New York City from 1970 to 1975, and a hearing officer for the New York City Transit Authority in Brooklyn, New York from 1975 to 1977.


Sweet is married to Adele Hall Sweet, daughter of publisher Dorothy Schiff.[3][4]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Sweet was nominated by President Jimmy Carter on February 17, 1978, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by Judge Inzer Bass Wyatt. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 25, 1978, and received his commission on April 28, 1978. He assumed senior status on March 1, 1991.[2] One of Sweet's law clerks was Eliot Spitzer, who later became Governor of New York.[5]

Notable cases[edit]

Consumers' lawsuit against McDonald's[edit]

One controversial case he decided was Pelman v McDonald's Corp., a case involving a group of teenagers who sued McDonald's fast food chain, claiming the food sold by McDonald's caused their obesity. Sweet dismissed the case in 2003 and said "it is not the place of the law to protect them against their own excesses".[6] However, the plaintiffs appealed to United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and in 2005 the circuit court vacated the district court's dismissal and reinstated some of the claims as incorrectly dismissed.[7] (Ultimately, the lawsuit failed when it was denied class-action status in 2010.)

New York Times and Judith Miller controversy[edit]

In 2005, in New York Times v. Gonzales, Sweet decided that The New York Times can maintain the confidentiality of its sources, refusing to dismiss Times' suit against Department of Justice in the Judith Miller controversy. However, later the Second Circuit reversed his decision and allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to access phone records of New York Times journalists.[8]

Opposition to War on Drugs[edit]

Sweet has expressed strong opposition to the United States War on Drugs, saying the drug war is "expensive, ineffective and harmful" and that only "gangs and cartels benefit from current drug laws".[9] In an interview with PBS, he said that the mandatory minimum sentence for drug offenses violates due process and separation of powers.[10] With co-author Edward A. Harris he contributed a chapter[11] to Jefferson Fish's book How to Legalize Drugs.

Sweet is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and serves on its advisory board.

Gene patents[edit]

On March 29, 2010, in Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. United States Patent and Trademark Office, et al., Sweet ruled that Myriad Genetics' patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes linked to breast cancer, were invalid for the reason that, in Sweet's opinion, genes do not constitute patentable subject matter. His decision was 156 pages long.[12][13]


  1. ^ Second Circuit redbook, 1984, pg. 147. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Sweet, Robert Workman - Federal Judicial Center". 
  3. ^ "Wedding of Mrs. Adele Leopold And Robert W. Sweet Is Held". New York Times. May 13, 1973. 
  4. ^ Sheehan, Kevin; Cohen, Shawn; Golding, Bruce (January 5, 2017). "Man shot by cops is scion of powerful New York family". New York Post. 
  5. ^ "New York Governor official biography". Archived from the original on December 8, 2008. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  6. ^ Court dismisses McDonald's obesity case BBC News
  7. ^ "Circuit Court allows some claims and remands – Pelman v. McDonald's Corporation". Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  8. ^ Court Hands New York Times a Setback in Miller Case Joseph Goldstein
  9. ^ Abolition And Reform Robert W. Sweet
  10. ^ Interview: Robert Sweet PBS
  11. ^ Sweet, R. W. & Harris E. A. (1998). Moral and Constitutional considerations in support of the decriminalization of drugs. In J. M. Fish (Ed.), How to legalize drugs (pp. 430–484). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
  12. ^ Begley, Sharon (March 29, 2010). "In Surprise Ruling, Court Declares Two Gene Patents Invalid". Newsweek. Archived from the original on April 19, 2010. Retrieved March 29, 2010. 
  13. ^ Schwartz, John & Pollack, Andrew (March 29, 2010). "Judge Invalidates Human Gene Patent". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2010. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
Inzer Bass Wyatt
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Harold Baer Jr.