Laurence Silberman, influential U.S. appeals judge, dies at 86

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) awards the Medal of Freedom to Judge Laurence Silberman (L) during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, June 19, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • Silberman, a Reagan-era appointee, died on Sunday
  • Wrote opinion striking down D.C. gun restrictions
  • Former law clerks include Amy Coney Barrett

(Reuters) - Laurence Silberman, a longtime judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit who wrote a landmark decision that broadly protected firearm ownership rights and who had urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a key ruling protecting the media from defamation claims, died on Sunday. He was 86.

The D.C. Circuit, where Silberman had served since his appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, confirmed his death.

In a statement, D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan on Monday called Silberman "a public servant of the highest order" who served the country "with great distinction for more than half a century."

Silberman's death does not give President Joe Biden a vacancy to fill on the influential Washington, D.C.-based appeals court. Silberman in 2000 took a form of semi-retirement called "senior status" that created an opening on the court at that time.

Silberman was an active participant at oral arguments, and shunned the overuse of obscure acronyms, a common occurrence in the D.C. Circuit, where the docket is teeming with administrative law disputes arriving from federal agencies.

Silberman, a conservative jurist, served at the D.C. Circuit with six future U.S. Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Some of his former law clerks at the D.C. Circuit include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett; John Yoo, a professor at University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Patrick Philbin, who served as a lawyer for Donald Trump during his impeachment; and Paul Clement, who has argued more than 100 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among his notable rulings, Silberman, a hunter and gun owner, wrote the 2004 majority opinion that struck down D.C.'s ban on firearm ownership. The Supreme Court in that case issued a landmark ruling in 2008 that said the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a firearm.

More recently, Silberman urged the U.S. Supreme Court last year to overturn its 1964 1st Amendment ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, which accorded news media some protections against defamation claims.

In March, Silberman raised questions when he suggested protesters at Yale Law School might be disqualified from serving as law clerks for their roles in a demonstration at the school against the conservative religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom.

A 1961 graduate of Harvard Law School, his legal career involved many roles, from his early service as a U.S. labor agency attorney to serving as the U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia in the late 1970s.

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