AUSTIN, Texas —Charles Alan Wright, a University of Texas at Austin law professor and one of the nation’s leading authorities on the federal courts and the U.S. Constitution, died today at a local hospital. He was 72.
Only last month, Wright was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal. Only 10 other professors were on the list.
Although officially retired, Wright continued to teach on a halftime basis and held the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the UT Austin School of Law.
Wright’s 54-volume Federal Practice and Procedureis recognized as the leading academic authority of its kind used by lawyers who practice in the federal courts and often cited in judicial decisions. Since 1993, he had served as president of the law reform institution, the American Law Institute, the first law professor ever to be selected for this honor.
M. Michael Sharlot, dean of the UT Austin law school, once called Wright “the paradigm of the American lawyer-scholar.”
In a 1996 nomination letter for the Fordham-Stein Prize, Sharlot said Wright’s achievements were unmatched in the varied roles of advocate, scholar and leader of law reform. “His career defies the trend in our age towards increasingly narrow specialization and brilliantly illustrates how the legally trained mind can be put to the service of his profession, community and nation,” wrote Sharlot, who holds the John Jeffers Research Chair in Law. Wright did receive the 1997 Fordham-Stein Prize, given annually to a member of the legal profession who exemplifies “the highest standards of professional conduct.”
“Charles Alan Wright was undoubtedly our greatest professor,” said William Powers, who will succeed Sharlot as dean of UT’s law school on Sept. 1. “Indeed, he was the greatest legal academic of his generation. More than that, he was a good and decent person.”
Wright also was known for his work with the Nixon defense team during the Watergate years, serving as consultant to counsel for the President.
Joining the UT law faculty in 1955 after teaching at the University of Minnesota, Wright quickly became a mentor and inspiration to generations of law students. Students were continually amazed at his ability to cite case law by page number and paragraph ø from memory.
Wright was a distinguished member of the bar of the United States Supreme Court, both in frequency of appearances (having argued 13 cases before the court), and in the significance of the issues presented. His stature as a lawyer and legal scholar was evidenced by his appointment to the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States. His appointment by Chief Justice Rehnquist was the fifth time Wright served as a member of this body. His four previous appointments were made by Chief Justices Warren and Burger.
Wright also was assisting the University in its appeal of the Hopwood ruling.
Elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984, Wright also was the recipient of numerous other honors and teaching awards. In 1999, he was one of 16 professors to be named a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, Britain’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences.
For a downloadable high resolution photograph of Wright, please visit
William Powers, (512) 232-1120 (work) or (512) 472-7831 (home); Professor Roy Mersky, (512) 471-7735 (w) or (512) 343-1563 (h) or Professor Douglas Laycock at (512) 232-1341 (w) or (512) 346-3127 (h).
For a statement issued by The University of Texas System, please see www.utsystem.edu/News/WrightStatement.htm