Friday, September 6, 2002
Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Eugene Allen Wright Dead at 89
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Eugene Allen “Gene” Wright, a federal appeals judge often praised for the clarity of his writing, has died at 89.
Wright served on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from 1969 until his death Tuesday of pneumonia and congestive heart failure at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.
Reflecting an early interest in becoming a reporter, he wrote law review articles, served on the University of Washington law school faculty from 1964-72 and was a lecturer at the university’s School of Communications.
He also was co-author of the State Trial Judges book and editor of the Trial Judges Journal.
Wright’s opinions were a “model of brevity and clarity,” Ninth Circuit Judge Richard C. Tallman, who practiced in Seattle before his appointment to the court, commented yesterday. “We used to marvel at his ability to take complicated subjects and reduce them to simple, understandable legal opinions,” Tallman said.
A lifelong Seattle resident, Wright earned undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Washington, then joined his father, Elias Allen Wright, at the law firm Wright and Wright in 1937. He was also active in the Republican Party, serving as chairman of its county convention in 1950.
He was elected president of the Seattle Jaycees in 1941 but resigned after the United States entered World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and Army Commendation Medal.
Wright served in 1948-52 as a part-time Municipal Court judge and in 1954-66 as a King County Superior Court judge. In the latter job he developed a program for hiring recent law school graduates for one-year stints as bailiffs and law clerks.
Following three years as a bank executive, he was named to the federal appeals court by President Richard M. Nixon. He took senior status in 1983, but continued to carry a significant caseload well into the 1990s.
One of his later opinions was a dissent in the Washington state “right-to-die” case. He argued that a state law banning assisted suicide was unconstitutional as applied to terminally ill, mentally competent adults.
“The right to die with dignity accords with the American values of self-determination and privacy regarding personal decisions,’’ he wrote. The Ninth Circuit’s limited en banc panel later agreed with him, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed.
He also wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Jackson, a 1996 case that upheld the constitutionality of federal sentencing rules treating possession of a quantity of crack cocaine as equivalent to possessing 100 times as much powder cocaine.
Wright cited an earlier case in which the panel concluded that it was rational to impose greater punishment for possessing crack because it provides users with quicker and higher “highs,” is often used and sold by young people and is more widely distributed because of its low per-dose cost, and because its distribution is often accompanied by violence.
The contrary view of the U.S. Sentencing Commission did not alter the precedential value of the earlier opinion, Wright said. The sentencing disparity remains a controversial topic, and legislation on the subject is currently pending in Congress.
Wright’s survivors include his wife of 64 years, Esther Ladley Wright; sister, Florence Wright Russell, of Seattle; son, Gerald Allen Wright, of Portola Valley, Calif.; daughter Meredith Wright Morton of Olympia, Wash., a grandson and a great-granddaughter.
Memorial services were pending.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company