Remembering 'Lion of the Senate' Edward Kennedy, a U.Va. Alumnus

August 26, 2009 — The University of Virginia community is mourning the loss of one of its most prominent alumni, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a 1959 graduate of the School of Law, who died Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., after a battle with brain cancer. He was 77.

"Senator Kennedy was one of the most prolific and effective legislators in our nation's history," Law School Dean Paul G. Mahoney said. "He was able to work with colleagues of different views and had a passionate desire to use the legislative process for the benefit of the least privileged. The Law School mourns the loss of an exceptional graduate."

Kennedy followed in brother Robert F. Kennedy's footsteps in attending U.Va.'s law school. During his second year, he managed his brother John's successful Senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts.

Kennedy's law school career culminated in winning the William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition, a mock trial competition that begins in law students' first year and ends before a panel of judges in their third and final year. Kennedy's partner in the competition was his roommate, John Tunney, who would later join Kennedy in the U.S. Senate, representing California.

"And of course, Teddy just loved the fact that he had won and Bobby had not," Tunney once told a Boston Globe reporter.

Former U.Va. law professor Mortimer Caplin taught Kennedy (and his brother, Robert, who graduated in 1951) federal taxation.

"They were both just average students, but they were good on their feet. They were unusually good in the moot court competition," recalled Caplin, who later was chosen by President John F. Kennedy to be commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

Edward Kennedy was also a member of the Student Advisory Council and Phi Alpha Delta. In his final year at Virginia, he served as president of the Student Legal Forum, which invites prominent public figures to speak at the Law School. Forum speakers that year included U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, U.S. Senators. Hubert Humphrey and John Stennis, columnist Joseph Alsop, and Robert Kennedy, then counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee.

After law school, Kennedy served in his brother John's successful presidential campaign. He worked as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts before his election to the Senate in 1962 at the age of 30, the legal minimum.

Kennedy returned to his law alma mater to speak several times over the years, most recently in 2006 when he delivered the keynote address at the annual Conference on Public Service and the Law.

"I hope some of you will join a district attorney's office as I also did as a young lawyer," he said. "Or perhaps you'll be a public defender, or a legal service lawyer dealing directly with clients. These are all inspiring ways to become involved in public interest law and effective ways to learn the practical art" of being a good lawyer.

Kennedy charged the audience to protect and preserve the U.S. Constitution in light of the challenges presented by the War on Terror.

"As the lawyers and leaders and senators of the future, you have a special obligation to educate the public on these issues by teaching and writing and speaking about them, and working with groups that care about these issues," he said. "So you have your assignment."

Kennedy was the second-most senior member of the Senate, and is the third-longest-serving senator of all time. More than 300 bills that Kennedy wrote have been enacted into law, and he played a major role in passing many pieces of legislation, including those focusing on immigration, civil rights, expanding health care and the rights of the disabled, and education reform, including efforts to increase aid for higher education and win passage of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

He ran for president in 1980, but lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter.

Caplin, who remained close to the Kennedy family over the years and informally advised Edward Kennedy on tax issues, praised his years of service in the Senate, including his most recent position as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"Kennedy was a giant in the Senate. He was the head of so many important committees," Caplin said. "He knows more about health care than anyone in the Senate. It's a great loss to Barack Obama not to have Kennedy at his side."