Thomas Joseph Meskill

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Thomas Joseph Meskill
Thomas Meskill.jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
April 23, 1975 – June 30, 1993
Appointed by Gerald Ford
Preceded by John Joseph Smith
Succeeded by Guido Calabresi
82nd Governor of Connecticut
In office
January 6, 1971 – January 8, 1975
Lieutenant T. Clark Hull
Peter L. Cashman
Preceded by John N. Dempsey
Succeeded by Ella T. Grasso
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Connecticut's 6th district
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Bernard Grabowski
Succeeded by Ella T. Grasso
Personal details
Born (1928-01-30)January 30, 1928
New Britain, Connecticut
Died October 29, 2007(2007-10-29) (aged 79)
Delray Beach, Florida
Political party Republican
Alma mater Trinity College, Hartford
University of Connecticut Law School
Religion Roman Catholic

Thomas Joseph Meskill (January 30, 1928 – October 29, 2007) was a longtime judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He previously served as the 82nd Governor of Connecticut, as a U.S. Congressman from Connecticut, and as the mayor of New Britain, Connecticut. He is noted as having served in all three branches of government and at the local, state and federal levels of government during his career of public service.


Thomas Joseph Meskill was born on January 30, 1928 in New Britain, Connecticut.[1] His father was politically active.[2] Meskill graduated from New Britain Senior High School in 1946. He then attended Bloomfield's Saint Thomas Seminary then, although his original intention had been to pursue pre-medical studies,.[2] He earned a bachelor of science degree from Trinity College in Hartford in 1950.[3]

After graduation, Meskill enlisted in the United States Air Force and served for three years during the Korean War.[4] He was honorably discharged in 1953 with the rank of first lieutenant.[3]

Meskill studied at the New York University School of Law and the University of Connecticut Law School, where he was editor of the Law Review,[2] earning an J.D. from the latter institution in 1956.[1][5] He was admitted to the bar and began practicing in New Britain in 1956.[3]

Meskill died in Florida on October 29, 2007, at the age of 79.[6]

The Law library at the University of Connecticut Law School is named posthumously after Meskill.[7]

Political career[edit]

A lapel pin from Meskill's gubernatorial campaign

In 1958, Meskill made a failed bid for the Connecticut Senate. The following year, Meskill ran for the first time for the office of mayor of New Britain, Connecticut, but was defeated by 116 votes.[2]

Meskill served for two years as New Britain's assistant corporation counsel starting in 1960. He then won election and served a term as New Britain's mayor from 1962 to 1964. He was defeated for re-election and also failed in an attempt to win a campaign for Congress that same year.[2]

He served as New Britain's corporation counsel from 1965 to 1966. During 1965, Meskill was also a member of a state constitutional convention held in Hartford[3] to draft a new Connecticut State Constitution in accordance with a U.S.Supreme Court ruling.

In 1966, amid a Democratic sweep of the state, he was elected on the Republican Party ticket to serve as Congressman for Connecticut's 6th congressional district.[2] He served in the 90th and 91st Congresses, from January 3, 1967 to January 3, 1971.[3]

In 1970, Meskill ran for and was elected Governor of Connecticut, defeating Democratic Congressman Emilio Q. Daddario 53.76% to 46.23%. Meskill became the first Republican elected to the position since John Davis Lodge left office in 1955. He served from January 6, 1971 to January 8, 1975.[8] He was the only Republican party nominee to win an election for governor in Connecticut between 1950 and 1994.

During his term as governor, Connecticut went from a budget deficit of $260 million to a surplus of $65 million. He was also involved in the founding of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and of the Connecticut Lottery.[2] He announced he wouldn't seek a second term following severe criticism of his not returning to the state from a skiing trip during a severe ice storm in December 1973.[9] In his eulogy, Judge Peter Dorsey said in retrospect "the blizzard was the best thing that happened" to Meskill, since it caused him to pursue a judicial career instead of continuing a career seeking elective office [1]

Judicial career[edit]

In August 1974, President Richard M. Nixon, in one of the last acts of his presidency, nominated Meskill to serve as a federal appellate judge for the Second Circuit, comprising Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. The nomination proved controversial and was not acted on by the United States Senate that year. On January 16, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford renominated Meskill to be the 38th judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, succeeding to seat vacated by John Joseph Smith.[1] The nomination was opposed by many groups including the American Bar Association, which cited his lack of legal experience.[2] Law professors from Meskill's alma mater the University of Connecticut also opposed the nomination stating in a letter to the Senate "it is clear from his record as Governor that he lacks the judicial temperament which might have compensated for his want of experience....As Governor he has repeatedly shown himself insensitive to the rights of the poor and the disadvantaged, and indifferent to civil and political liberties." Nonetheless, Meskill's nomination was confirmed on April 22, 1975, by a vote of 54–36 and he was commissioned to his seat the next day. One year later, however, his most ardent critic, Lawrence E. Walsh, who, as President of the American Bar Association had led the opposition to Judge Meskill, publicly admitted his error and called Judge Meskill a “hardworking, able judge.” Other organizations that had opposed his appointment would also reverse course by honoring his judicial service. The Connecticut Bar Association awarded Judge Meskill its highest award for judicial service, the Henry J. Naruk Award, in 1994. In that same year, the Federal Bar Council recognized Judge Meskill for his “excellence in federal jurisprudence” by awarding him its Learned Hand Medal. In 1982, the University of Connecticut Law School honored Judge Meskill with its Connecticut Law Review Award, commending him for his “commitment to public service” and for the “intellectual honesty and conviction” that characterized his career.

Meskill remained a judge for the rest of his life. He served as the Second Circuit's Chief Judge from 1992 to 1993. Meskill assumed senior status on the court on June 30, 1993, which he retained until his death some 32 years after he took the bench.[1]

Thomas Meskill held memberships in the American Bar Association, the American Judicature Society, the Connecticut Bar Association, and the Florida Bar.[10]

Noteworthy Cases[edit]

Judge Meskill participated in many influential rulings during his tenure on the Court, including several adopted by the United States Supreme Court. Among his noteworthy rulings, in Barnes v. Jones (2d Cir. 1981), a criminal case, Judge Meskill disagreed with the majority, stating that appointed counsel should not have to present all non-frivolous arguments requested by his client. The United States Supreme Court agreed with Judge Meskill and reversed the Second Circuit majority, holding that an indigent defendant did not have a constitutional right to compel appointed counsel to press non-frivolous points, where, as a matter of professional judgment, counsel chose not to do so. Judge Meskill’s dissenting opinion prevailed in two other Second Circuit cases in which the Supreme Court granted certiorari, Herbert v. Lando (2d Cir. 1977), and Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters. (2d Cir. 1983). In Herbert v. Lando, the majority concluded that, in a defamation suit brought by a public figure, the First Amendment affords a privilege to disclosure of a journalist’s exercise of editorial control and judgment. Judge Meskill predicted the Supreme Court’s rejection of the majority’s “new constitutional privilege”; the Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit, affording no absolute privilege to the editorial process of a media defendant in a libel case. Similarly, in Harper & Row Publishers, the Second Circuit concluded over Judge Meskill’s dissent that the publication of verbatim excerpts from former-President Ford’s unpublished memoir constituted a “fair use” under the Copyright Act, as the excerpts involved important matters of state. The Supreme Court disagreed and again sided with Judge Meskill, concluding that the fact that excerpts were newsworthy did not alone shield the publisher from copyright liability.


  1. ^ a b c d "Meskill, Thomas Joseph". Biographical Directory of Federal Judges. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Zack, Suzanne (December 1997). "Thomas J. Meskill, Jr. '50— Rising to the top in the world of politics and jurisprudence". Mosaic. Trinity College. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "MESKILL, Thomas Joseph, (1928 – )". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Office of History and Preservation, United States Congress. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  4. ^ Kestenbaum, Lawrence (1998). "Index to Politicians: Merriweather to Mestre". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  5. ^ "Biographical information: Thomas J. Meskill". Judges' Bios. US Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit. Retrieved January 19, 2007. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Governor of Connecticut". NNDB. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Leadership in Times of Disaster". Connecticut Local Politics. September 4, 2005. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  10. ^ "Thomas J. Meskill". NNDB. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Bernard F. Grabowski
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Connecticut's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ella T. Grasso
Political offices
Preceded by
John N. Dempsey
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Ella T. Grasso
Preceded by
John Joseph Smith
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Succeeded by
Guido Calabresi