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Jack B. Weinstein (1921–2021), federal judge in Agent Orange case

by Linnea Crowther

Jack B. Weinstein was a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, who presided over notable cases.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Weinstein attended Columbia Law School and worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He taught at Columbia – his students included Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933–2020) – and served as Nassau County attorney before being appointed as a federal judge in 1967. His court in the Eastern District of New York was based in Brooklyn. There, Weinstein presided over cases including a class action suit over Agent Orange, the herbicide used in the Vietnam War that is believed to have caused health problems in the military veterans who were exposed to it. Weinstein approved a settlement requiring manufacturers to pay up on the veterans’ claims.

Weinstein’s other notable rulings included a 1999 verdict holding handgun manufacturers liable in shootings. Another offered a path for smokers to sue tobacco companies. Both were overturned on appeal. Known for his liberal beliefs and passion for civil rights, Weinstein continued to serve actively on the federal bench until 2020.

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Notable quote

“I would like to be remembered for trying to work with individuals to help them avoid the life-killing environment of prisons and to save them for a life with relatives and friends, with a job, and with the opportunity to lead a lawful life. Partly by reducing sentences to the extent possible, partly by reducing supervised release and partly by getting them out into the real world. It’s on a one-to-one basis that I see myself operating — the judge to the individual defendant.” —from a 2020 interview for the New York Times

Tributes to Jack B. Weinstein

Full obituary: The New York Times

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