The Colleges mourn the passing of Harold Baer Jr. ’54, who died on May 27 at the age of 81. A federal judge, Baer served on the bench in the Southern District of New York for 20 years and will be remembered for his commitment to civil rights and diversity. An obituary in the New York Times details more of Baer’s life and work.
A number of Baer’s rulings raised the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike, and he drew on that experience when writing “Judges Under Fire: Human Rights, Independent Judges and the Rule of Law,” a book published in 2011. In it, he made the argument that Democracy was threatened in countries lacking respect for judicial independence.
Among the many controversial cases he presided over in his extensive career, Baer ruled unconstitutional: a policy of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that limited the number of people who could participate in news conferences on the City Hall steps; a state law banning the wearing of masks at public gatherings (in particular as it was directed against the Ku Klux Klan); and confinement conditions for pretrial detainees at Rikers Island. In the weeks prior to his death, Baer spoke out against current conditions at Rikers that are in violation of his 2004 order in the case.
“I think he had the street smarts of a state court judge and the real world humanity of what people see in state court every day,” Southern District Judge Richard Berman, says of his colleague in an obituary in the New York Law Journal. “At the same time, he had the skills and ability to handle the federal cases, which are sometimes more complex-so he had the whole package. He was a real people person.”
Prior to joining the state court, Baer worked in private practice, was a lawyer in federal and state posts and served as executive director of the New York Police Department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. He was appointed to the federal court by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
Baer formed the Network of Bar Leaders to improve and expand communication among local, county, minority, ethnic, specialty and women’s bar associations. It is now a coalition of 50 member bar associations in New York. He also served as president of New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA), at which time Baer and his wife Suzanne began to provide law students of color with eight-week internships with state and federal judges – with stipends. In 2011, the NYCLA renamed the program “The Hon. Harold Baer Jr. and Dr. Suzanne Baer Minority Judicial Internship Program.”
Baer earned a B.A. in political science and history magna cum laude and with honors from Hobart College. As a student, he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and was active with the Board of Control, the Herald and WEOS-FM. He went on to graduate from Yale Law School. A consistent supporter of the Colleges, he was a member of the Hobart Club of New York and provided career counseling to HWS students. Baer received the Hobart Medal of Excellence in 1989.
He is survived by his wife and daughters, Elizabeth and Linda Baer.