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Trivia Time: Bankruptcy Lawyers in the Senate

posted by Adam Levitin

I always figured that Elizabeth Warren was the first bankruptcy lawyer to serve in the Senate.  Turns out that there's at least one other.  (I'm not counting Senators who have served as Chapter 7 trustees.) Anyone know who? Answer under the break.

The answer is Jacob Javitz, Senator from New York.  He was counsel for Standard Gas & Electric in the Deep Rock case that the Supreme Court decided in 1939.  That case had some other notable counsel:  William Sidley  (of Sidley, Austin) and Jason Honigman (of Honigman, Miller) were both involved. 


And, of course, a past president -- one who also filed bankruptcy himself.

No, I don't think Durbin ever practiced as a bankruptcy lawyer. I believe he was a Chapter 7 trustee at some point, however.

The Presidents who filed for bankruptcy thing is trickier than it appears, I think. One can find reference to bankruptcy filings by Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, and Truman. I'm not sure that any of them ever filed for personal bankruptcy. They all had financial difficulty and may have had partners or businesses that failed (Lincoln and Truman), but I haven't seen anything that clearly indicates that any of them individually filed for bankruptcy, as opposed to colloquially being "bankrupt" in the sense of broke.

Elizabeth Edwards, once the wife of Sen. John Edwards, had previously been a bankruptcy attorney. I don't know if any other senatorial spouses were.

Elizabeth Edwards was an expert bankruptcy lawyer before joining Democratic Party. She was an active lawyer and I don't think Jacob Javitz is as efficient as she was.

Did Warren ever practice? Hard to call a career academic / politician a bankruptcy lawyer.

I recently had dinner with a group that included a bankruptcy judge who remembered a case where Elizabeth Warren appeared before her. Although Warren represented a party against a bank, it was a commercial case, almost certainly a business Chapter 11. In that case the bank lost.

During last year's campaign Scott Brown attempted to make some hay out of Senator Warren's work as a bankruptcy attorney in a case involving Traveler's Insurance and an asbestos trust. http://factcheck.org/2012/10/warrens-role-in-asbestos-case/

Thank you for the excellent piece.

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