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Wesley E. Brown, Oldest Judge in U.S. History

March 28, 2024

Judge Wesley Earnest Brown attended law school at night while working on the Ford Motor assembly line making Model As. He graduated in 1933, after having been fired by Ford during the Depression. (see “Wesley Brown, Oldest Federal Judge, Dies at 104,” Courthouse News Service).

After a career in private practice, and two years of service in the Navy during WWII, he was appointed to the federal bench in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. He assumed senior status in 1979 and continued to serve as a senior judge until his death on January 23, 2012. During his five decades on the bench, he saw one of his former judicial law clerks join him on the federal bench, and then join him as a senior lawyer. He was 104 years old when he died at his home, where he was working on his cases from bed after a recent decline in his health. His legal career had spanned 79 years, including almost five decades serving on the federal court.

The New York Times published an article on Judge Brown when he was 103. At that time, the judge had made only a few concessions to his age. While he was still hearing cases in his fourth floor courtroom, he no longer took the stairs to get there – he started taking the elevator after his 100th birthday – and he used supplemental oxygen during hearings. He also had cut back on the number of civil cases he heard, though he kept a full criminal caseload.

While many of the lawyers who practiced in his courtroom for decades were worried about Judge Brown’s physical health, they had no concerns about his mental acuity, and they welcomed the mellowing of his judicial temper that had come with age. In his earlier years on the bench, the judge would become so enraged at lawyers (use of the word “indicate” in particular would set him off) that one defense attorney had been known to take a Valium every time he appeared before Judge Brown.

Congress honored Judge Brown with a resolution on his 100th birthday. In 2011, after he turned 104, Judge Brown was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest serving judge. He beat the next oldest U.S. Federal judge by six years.

To read more about Judge Brown, his incredible career on the bench and a touching tribute from a criminal defendant who was interviewed after completing the sentence Judge Brown had imposed on him, see the following sources, which provided much of the information in this article: