It was with deep regret that the AHI family learned of the passing ofJudge David Aldrich Nelson. Judge Nelson stood as a stalwart supporter of the AHI from its inception. “In my relations with Judge Nelson,” observed AHI co-founder Bob Paquette, “I saw a man of not only great intelligence and perspicacity, but of great character and dignity as well. He was a steady source of wisdom and counsel for the AHI. He did not speak often, but when he did speak everybody listened.” “Judge Nelson’s understated confidence, equanimity, and friendliness struck me as the essence of judicial demeanor, noted AHI charter fellow James Bradfield. “He looked like a judge, and he sounded like a judge. In conversation, he spoke with economy. He was in no sense condescending. In spite of his ease of manner, one clearly sensed the presence of a towering intellect.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on his life and some of his accomplishments here.
Fred Nelson, Judge Nelson’s oldest son, has provided the AHI with the following information about his father and his family:
“David Aldrich Nelson, a retired judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, died at his home in Indian Hill (Cincinnati) on Friday evening, October 1st. His death was attributed to heart and lung disease, from which he had suffered for several years. ‘David Nelson was exactly what a judge should be. He was a brilliant and temperate judge; a man of unquestioned and unquestionable integrity; a colleague always willing to share his insight and experience; and a truly good man,’ said Sixth Circuit Chief Judge Alice Batchelder.
Judge Jeffrey Sutton, Nelson’s successor on the court, added: ‘Dave Nelson set the gold standard on our court for fair-minded judging, masterful opinion writing, and ever-warm collegiality. He was a valued mentor to me and an irreplaceable friend. Lawyers and judges will be reading and admiring Judge Nelson’s opinions, with their flashes of bracing wit, for years to come.’
Judge Nelson was born at Watertown, New York, on August 14, 1932, the son of Carlton Low Nelson and Irene Demetria Aldrich Nelson. He was educated in the public schools of East Aurora, New York, and at Hamilton College, from which he was graduated in 1954 as valedictorian.
Nelson began his legal studies that year as a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University in England. On the ship to England, he met Mary Dickson, a recent Vassar College graduate who also was a Cambridge-bound Fulbright Scholar. The couple became engaged in England; they were married for the last fifty-four years.
Judge Nelson took first class honours at Cambridge in 1955, on the strength of which he was retrospectively made a scholar of his college, Peterhouse. Nelson received his law degree from Harvard, cum laude, in 1958. Admitted to the Ohio bar in that year, he began the practice of law in Cleveland with the firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. From 1959 to 1962 he served on active duty with the United States Air Force at the Pentagon, assigned to the Secretary of the Air Force – General Counsel’s office. He remained in the Air Force Reserve for several years thereafter, attaining the rank of Major.
Admitted to partnership in Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in 1967, Nelson resigned in 1969 to accept appointment by President Nixon as General Counsel of the Post Office Department. Postmaster General Winton M. Blount awarded Nelson the Department’s Benjamin Franklin award for his work on what became the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. After the enactment of that legislation, Nelson became Senior Assistant Postmaster General and General Counsel of the newly established United States Postal Service.
Nelson rejoined his former law firm in 1972, remaining a partner in Cleveland until President Reagan appointed him to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1985. The Sixth Circuit adjudicates appeals from federal courts in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee; one level below the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals effectively is the court of last resort for most federal litigants. As a Circuit Judge, Nelson served two terms on the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. Because of his gradually deteriorating health, Judge Nelson closed his courthouse chambers in 2006.
Judge Nelson was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a Life Fellow of the Ohio State Bar Foundation, and a Sergeant Emeritus of the Court of Nisi Prius in Cleveland. He served in the past as a member of the National Council of the Ohio State University College of Law, a trustee of Hamilton College, and a director of Blount, Inc. At the time of his death he was a director of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, based in Clinton, New York.
In addition to his wife Mary, Judge Nelson is survived by son Frederick Nelson, a Cincinnati lawyer and former judge of the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court; daughter Claudia Nelson, a professor of English Literature at Texas A&M University; son Caleb Nelson, a law professor at the University of Virginia; grandchildren Max and Katy Nelson of Charlottesville VA, Mary Isabel Nelson of College Station TX, and Gabrielle and Alex Nelson of Cincinnati; and sister Marjorie Nelson Smart of Ithaca, NY.
A memorial service will be held at Covenant-First Presbyterian Church, 717 Elm Street, Cincinnati, at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, October 11th. There will be no internment. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be directed to the Salvation Army (P.O. Box 596, Cincinnati OH 45201), the Alexander Hamilton Institute (21 West Park Row, Clinton NY 13323), or a charity of the donor’s choice.”