Charles Fried, Legal Scholar Who Broke With Conservatives, Dies at 88


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Charles Fried, a conservative legal scholar who as President Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general argued against abortion rights and affirmative action before the Supreme Court — but who later rejected the conservative legal movement’s rightward march, calling the current high court “reactionary” — died on Tuesday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 88.

His death was announced by Harvard Law School, where Mr. Fried taught many thousands of students beginning in 1961, among them a future Supreme Court justice, Stephen G. Breyer, and a future Massachusetts governor, William F. Weld.

Mr. Fried (pronounced “freed”) was a son of Jewish parents who fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 to escape Naziism, and whose hopes of returning home after the war were thwarted by the descent of the Iron Curtain. He traced his political conservatism both to that background and to the hard-left atmosphere prevailing at Harvard Law School in the 1970s, which, he recalled, included faculty-led Marxist study groups.

He became “quite allergic to the left,” Mr. Fried said at a law school panel last year. “And that allergy took a form where I wanted to be rather in opposition. And what better way to be in opposition than to go into the Reagan administration?”

In 1985, as solicitor general — the White House’s representative before the Supreme Court — Mr. Fried argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. But he later changed his mind. As the high court’s Republican-appointed supermajority looked likely to reverse Roe, Mr. Fried wrote in 2021 in an opinion column for The New York Times, “To overturn Roe now would be an act of constitutional vandalism.”

His reasoning was that a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, had more firmly established the right to abortion than when he opposed it for the Reagan White House.

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Charles Fried, Legal Scholar Who Broke With Conservatives, Dies at 88

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