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Charles Fried, Former U.S. Solicitor General and Longtime Harvard Law School Professor, Dies at 88

Longtime Harvard Law School professor Charles A. Fried, center, died on Tuesday at age 88.
Longtime Harvard Law School professor Charles A. Fried, center, died on Tuesday at age 88. By Aleah C. Bowie
By S. Mac Healey and Saketh Sundar, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: Tuesday, January 23 at 11:34 p.m.

Charles Fried, a longtime Harvard Law School professor and renowned conservative legal scholar who served as a U.S. solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan, died on Tuesday, according to statements from his family and HLS Dean John F. Manning. He was 88.

A cause of death was not immediately available.

Fried joined HLS as a professor in 1961, where he taught for more than 60 years. He announced in December that he would retire at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.

Fried also served as an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1995 to 1999 while lecturing on constitutional law at Harvard. He was known for serving as a faculty adviser to the Law School’s chapter of the Federalist Society.

Manning announced Fried’s death in an email to HLS affiliates Tuesday evening, praising Fried for his “unfailing kindness, generosity, brilliance, wisdom, warmth, and wit.”

“Charles was a great lawyer, who brought the discipline of philosophy to bear on the hardest legal problems, while always keeping in view that law must do the important work of ordering our society and structuring the way we solve problems and make progress in a constitutional democracy,” Manning wrote.

Fried authored numerous books and articles throughout his career and taught on a slew of subjects ranging from constitutional law to contracts.

Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe described Fried as “one of a kind: a towering intellect, erudite beyond belief, invariably kind, and unfailingly decent” in an emailed statement to The Crimson Tuesday evening.

“He enlivened every meeting and conversation, was a deeply philosophical lawyer and a great legal philosopher,” Tribe wrote.

Born in 1935 to a Jewish family in Prague, Fried and his family relocated to England four years later, fleeing Nazi persecution. Two years later, they settled in the U.S.

Fried obtained a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1956, following which he studied at Oxford University and Columbia Law School.

At 26, Fried moved to Cambridge to teach at HLS after serving as a clerk for Justice John Marshall Harlan II of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an interview with The Crimson in December, former University President Derek C. Bok said Fried had “a wonderfully open mind to anything and everything that comes into it.”

Bok said Fried was one of the “happiest sort of friends” that he made at Harvard.

Law School professor David B. Wilkins ’77 wrote in a text Tuesday evening that “no one was more supportive of me than Charles Fried when I first arrived as a junior faculty member.”

“I have never known anyone who grew as much as a person and scholar — or pushed me to grow more,” Wilkins wrote. “We will not soon see his likes again, if ever.”

“My heart is breaking,” he added.

Benjamin Pontz, the president of the Harvard Federalist Society — for which Fried served as an advisor — wrote in a statement on X Tuesday evening that Fried “embodied the summum bonum of academic life.”

“He was a polymath, and he was a patriot,” Pontz wrote. “I’ll remember his commitment to decorum, to debate, and to dessert.”

Fried had been working on an upcoming book titled “Why I Changed My Mind,” detailing the evolution of his opinions on “important things that mattered,” Manning wrote.

As solicitor general, Fried argued on behalf of the Reagan administration, including for the overturning of Roe v. Wade — a stance on which he later reneged in a 2021 op-ed in the New York Times.

In December, Fried penned an op-ed in The Crimson in support of former President Claudine Gay following her disastrous testimony before Congress on antisemitism on college campuses.

Annette Gordon-Reed, who holds Harvard’s highest faculty rank as a University Professor, described Fried as “one of the kindest and most charming people I’ve ever met” in a Tuesday statement.

“He was unfailingly supportive and such good company. And, of course, he was brilliant,” she wrote. “This is an enormous loss.”

Charles Fried is survived by his wife, Anne, his two children, and his grandchildren.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah contributed reporting.

—Staff writer S. Mac Healey can be reached at mac.healey@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @MacHealey.

—Staff writer Saketh Sundar can be reached at saketh.sundar@thecrimson.com.

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