Peter W. Huber, 1952–2021
We mourn the passing of our friend and partner, Peter W. Huber, who died Friday after a long illness.
Peter was a brilliant lawyer and a generous and loyal colleague. He earned B.S., M.S. and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering at MIT and received a professorship by age 23. While teaching at MIT, he attended and graduated first in his law school class from Harvard University in 1982. He clerked on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and on the U.S. Supreme Court for Sandra Day O’Connor. He founded this firm with his friends and practiced here for almost three decades.
In addition to his great skills as a lawyer, Peter is renowned as a public intellectual. He spent over 25 years as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where he wrote on topics such as drug development, energy, technology, and the law. He is the author of many books, including The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law Is Undermining 21st Century Medicine (2013); The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy (2005), coauthored with Mark P. Mills, which Bill Gates said “is the only book I’ve ever seen that really explains energy, its history and what it will be like going forward”; and Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists (2000), which William F. Buckley, Jr., called “the richest contribution ever made to the greening of the political mind” and which set out a new conservative manifesto on the environment that advocates a return to conservation and environmental policy based on sound science and market economics.
He was an early advocate for tort reform, especially regarding misuse of science in jury trials, which he named “junk science.” Liability (Basic Books 1988); The Liability Maze (Brookings 1991); Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom (Basic Books 1993); and Judging Science (MIT Press 1999).
Peter was also an advocate for opening up competition in telecom, as an alternative to regulation. He was hired by the U.S. Department of Justice to write a report about the aftermath of the Bell System breakup. The Geodesic Network (U.S. Department of Justice 1987). DOJ had promised Judge Harold Greene that it would file such reports every three years, but DOJ stopped after the first such report, so Peter wrote The Geodesic Network II (self-published 1993). Peter then wrote the principle academic treatises on telecom law. Federal Telecommunications Law (Little Brown 1992); Federal Broadband Law (Little Brown 1995); Federal Telecommunications Law Second Edition (Aspen Law & Business 1999), all with co-authors Michael Kellogg and John Thorne. Prior to the treatises, telecom law was an oral tradition that you learned by working for the Federal Communications Commission. Peter’s conclusion after studying that agency was it should be abolished. Law and Disorder in Cyberspace: Abolish the FCC and Let Common Law Rule the Telecosm (Oxford University Press 1997).
You can measure Peter’s efforts by their direct results. Tort reform was adopted; junk science is kept out of courtrooms; the Bell breakup decree was lifted; telecom regulation has been replaced by competition; environmental and energy policy are better informed by Peter’s ideas; and the FDA is beginning to embrace individualized medicine.
In addition to his policy campaigns at the intersection of law and science, Peter took time to mentor several generations of lawyers and particularly to promote women in the law. He clerked for the two most important women judges of his era – then-Judge Ruth Ginsburg and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He praised the home cooking of Justice Ginsburg’s husband while praising her dedication to getting the right answer in complex legal cases in a way that would be replicable by other sufficiently diligent judges seeking the answer. He also wrote an inspiring book about Justice O’Connor for girls, age 9 to 12. Sandra Day O’Connor (Women of Achievement) (Chelsea House 1992).
On top of everything else Peter Huber did in his too-short life, he was an extraordinary counsellor and practicing lawyer. For more than two decades, he trained his powerful mind and exceptional creativity on the real problems of real clients, in some of the most challenging areas of the law. He helped the companies created by the AT&T breakup navigate the complex and thorny regulatory, legal, and business issues they faced – with his clients coming out on top, defying expectations. He seized victory for the Pritzker family as their complex estate plans exploded in bickering and high-tension litigation in state court. He examined witnesses, wrote briefs, formed strategy, always collegially with his friends and partners. He set an example of excellence, and trained young lawyers to follow that example. Throughout it all, even with a ferocious energy and focus, he was a dedicated and generous colleague, always willing to help, to listen to the ideas of others, even willing to tolerate those of us who were not as quick or deep in our thinking – and that was all of us! We who had the privilege of practicing law with Peter Huber will never forget his influence, or think back on our partnership with him other than with gratitude and affection.