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Harold Spaeth


1930 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
Harold Spaeth Obituary
Harold J. Spaeth

East Lansing

Passed away on April 8, 2017. 

Harold was born on June 8, 1930, and grew up in Chicago.   Although offered a University of Chicago scholarship, he opted to attend Xavier University in Cincinnati from which his father and his father's two brothers had graduated.  He enrolled in the first class of the University's honors program that required 200 semester credits for graduation, having earned a triple major: classical languages, philosophy, and history.   He remained on for a master's degree before proceeding to the University of Cincinnati where he earned a Ph.D. in political science in 1956. He taught at the University of Detroit for seven years before leaving for Michigan State University where superior research opportunities prevailed.  His early books and other publications garnered him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Xavier in 1975.  Four years later, at the age of 49 he enrolled in the University of Michigan Law School, completing his law degree in 1981.  Michigan's Chief Justice, Mary Coleman, swore him in at a private ceremony in 1982.  Michigan State awarded him the distinguished faculty award in 1983.  He became a research professor in the MSU law school in 2000 and the same in the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research in 2015.

 At the time Harold began his teaching and research in judicial politics and the US Supreme Court the conventional wisdom unqualifiedly believed that all judges, state and federal, objectively and dispassionately based their decisions exclusively on the law and Constitution, His initial efforts to dispute this conviction subjected him to caustic criticism and general disbelief.  Using the votes of the justices, he documented the fact that the justices could be ranked on the Court's major issues systematically from liberal to conservative. Using psychological theorizing about beliefs, attitudes, and values he formulated and published in several prize winning books and articles an explanatory attitudinal model of Supreme Court decision making. These came to the attention of a West Coast publicist and newsmaker in 1970 who suggested he write an occasional newspaper column predicting and explaining upcoming Supreme Court decisions.   A feature article in the Sunday New York Times immensely popularized Spaeth's predictive accuracy (94 percent case outcome and 87% justices' voting) as it focused on his outcome and vote-for-vote accuracy in the Nixon Watergate and the Detroit Cross-District Business Cases.

 The Supreme Court database that he created as part of his research in the early 1970's has become the definitive one used by scholars, students, and journalists for analyses of the Court's decision making for the post-World War II Courts and those from the pre-Marshall, Marshall, Taney, and Chase Courts of the 18th and 19th centuries. This research terminated because of the lack of additional National Science Foundation funds that had supported research to date.  The omitted Courts were primarily the responsibility of students and technicians who could no longer spare time to do additional work at their own expense.

 Although Spaeth did not extend his database to lower federal and state courts others did with considerable success.  So much so that today the only ones who question the accuracy of his explanatory model are judges themselves.  They, of course, for policy and political reasons are

beholden to avow the mythological verities of objectivity, impartiality, and dispassion.

 Spaeth's life and work have made him one of the world's most cited judicial scholars.   Two of his books have been published in Mandarin Chinese by the Peking University Press.

 Non-academic activities include membership on the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee where he served four years as chair of the platform and resolutions committee, and a four-year term as a member of the Okemos, MI Board of Education.

He married his wonderful college sweetheart, Jean, on 8/16/1952.  They had a very happy 53 years of together before her death from heart failure and Alzheimer's Disease.    Harold leaves four children:  Hal (Liz) Spaeth, Susan (Jack) Langham, Catherine (Jon) Beagle, and Esther (Paul) Kelly. He leaves seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren, as well as his very special friend, Mary Ann Dunn.  He is survived as well by his two brothers, Mark (Jean) and Roger (Meredith), as well as many nieces and nephews.
Published in Lansing State Journal on Apr. 10, 2017
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