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Constitutional law expert Leonard Ratner dies

by James Lytle

Leonard Gordon Ratner, Legion Lex Professor Emeritus of Law and aleading authority on constitutional law, died Feb. 9 at the DriftwoodHealthcare Center in Torrance, following a stroke. He was 78.

Ratner was a leading exponent of the now-widely recognized view thatcongressional power to limit the Supreme Court’s appellatejurisdiction does not give lawmakers the right to impair theessential functions of the court.

“Leonard Ratner was a commanding scholar and an exemplary teacher,”said Scott Bice, dean of the Law Center. “His writings hadsignificant impact on the development of American law, and histeaching influenced generations of law students. He was deeplycommitted to our school and was a significant leader in itsdevelopment.”

Ratner wrote many influential, innovative and widely quoted lawarticles, including major works concerning child custody,governmental war-making powers, self-incrimination and the 14thAmendment. His work also provided the basis for the Uniform ChildCustody Jurisdiction Act. His views, outlined in 15 major articles,have had a significant impact on the work of courts, legislatures andscholars.

In an article on “The Coordinated War-Making Power: Legislative,Executive and Judicial Roles,” Ratner maintained that the power ofCongress to declare war limits the war-making power of the presidentas commander-in-chief of the armed forces. His position that thepresident may not constitutionally veto a congressional veto ofpresidentially authorized hostilities is reflected in thesubsequently enacted Second War Powers Act, which Ratner discussedwith congressional staff members.

His other widely cited and quoted constitutional law articles concernissues of due process, executive privilege, constitutionaljurisdiction to adjudicate, reapportionment and obscenity.

Ratner was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he graduated fromGeorge Washington High School in 1933. He earned his B.A. summa cumlaude from UCLA in 1937 and his law degree from Boalt Hall School ofLaw, at UC Berkeley, in 1940, graduating first in his class.

He was the first law clerk for justice Roger Traynor of theCalifornia Supreme Court.

During World War II, he was a trial judge advocate and legal officerin the Navy. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles, where hepracticed law from 1946 to 1958, teaching part-time at the LawCenter.

In 1959, he earned an S.J.D. from Harvard Law School. He then becamea lecturer at Harvard, where he taught for two years before rejoiningthe Law Center faculty as a full professor. He retired from teachingin 1986.

Ratner’s contributions to the Law Center extended beyond thetraditional areas of teaching and scholarship. As chair of thecenter’s Curriculum Committee, he wrote a report instituting a majorcurriculum revision. As chair of the Building and Finance committees,he supervised the drafting of a report that resulted in theuniversity’s decision to construct the current Law Center building,and he prepared a successful proposal for a million-dollar federalgrant to fund its construction.

He was an active participant in university affairs as well. He servedon the President’s Committee on Promotions and Tenure and theUniversity Appeals Panel on Student Discipline, chaired theUniversity Panel on Faculty Privileges and Tenure Appeals and servedas Law Center representative to the President’s Advisory Council andthe Faculty Senate.

He received the USC Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching in1987 and one of the university’s highest awards, a DistinguishedEmeritus Award, in 1988.

An internationally respected legal scholar, he was the DavidBen-Gurion Lecturer at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1976.

Ratner is survived by Catherine, his wife of 48 years, and threesons.

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