John Hart Ely, an influential attorney and constitutional scholar, died on Oct. 25 from cancer. He was 64.
Ely studied at Princeton, Yale and the London School of Economics and Political Science. During his second year of law school at Yale, Ely wrote legal briefs and argued Gideon vs. Wainwright before the Supreme Court, a case that granted court-appointed attorneys to defendants who could not afford them.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Ely was the youngest staff member to serve on the Warren Commission. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, worked as a criminal defense lawyer in San Diego and practiced law in the general counsel’s office at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
A law professor at Yale, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Miami, Ely is best known for writing the 1980 book, “Democracy and Distrust: A Theory of Judicial Review,” which discussed the proper role of judges in interpreting the Constitution. It is one of the most frequently cited books about law published in the 20th century.