America has lost a great public servant, a consequential and principled jurist. Judge Laurence Hirsch Silberman, who died Sunday at age 86, served for almost four decades on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District Columbia, widely regarded as the nation’s second-highest court. He served with six future Supreme Court justices, from Antonin Scalia to Ketanji Brown Jackson. He wrote important opinions and spotted lurking jurisdictional defects as he strived to model his vision of judicial restraint.
That vision didn’t please everyone—or anyone all of the time. He horrified progressives by rescuing the Second Amendment from obscurity and confounded conservatives by upholding the Affordable Care Act. But disappointing those who view judicial decisions through a political lens was part of the job. In his view, judges were limited to considering the arguments of the parties and the text of statutes and the Constitution, which didn’t always align with anyone’s policy preferences, including his own. Sometimes his vision of judicial restraint was too much for the Supreme Court, as when he refused to look beyond the parties’ arguments to see whether the statute they were arguing about was even still on the books. But in other cases, justices followed his lead.