IN ANY EVALUATION of the career of David L. Bazelon, the fact that he was chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals here for 15 years will be merely indicidential. The title added only a little gloss to his well-deserved reputation as one of the most influential and controversial judges in the nation. By voluntarily turning over that title to Judge J. Skelly Wright and remaing on the Court of Appeals, Judge Bazelon has freed himself from an administrative load without weakening his judical standing.
Judge Bazelon's contributions to American law in the 28 years he has served on that court have been remarkable. He has never hesitated to challenged conmarkable. He has never hesitated to challenge conventional assumptions or to probe for new answers to old questions. Beginning with the Durham decision in 1954 and continuing in dozens of judicial opinions and public speeches, his work on the relationship between mental illness and crime forced consequential and enduring changes in the law. As the most innovative member of a highly innovative court, Judge Bazelon was also responsible for many of the decisions that jarred the Supreme Court's revolutionary new approaches to criminal law a decade or so ago. In more recent years, the business of the court on which Judge Bazelon sits has changed drastically. The largest part of its criminal jurisdiction has been transferred to the District's own Court of Appeals; and the Bazelon court (as it has been known for years) is now the setting in which many issues concerning government's regulation of business are being fought out.
Because of this change in the nature of the work of the Court of Appeals, the role of its chief judge in local affairs has been sharply diminshed. The larger role was one Judge Bazelon relished. He was never reluctant to speak out on local issues that related to legal problems: crimes, treatment of juveniles, social conditions, schools, mental hospitals and so on. The new chief judge, Judge Wright, will not have so broad a jurisdiction. His primary task will be to bring a little more administrative order to a court that needs it. Judge Bazelon, on the other hand, is likely to go on as before - speaking out on all kinds of questions whenever he feels like it, enraging his critics, pleasing his fans and continually pushing all of us to open our minds to new possibilities.