Judge Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. passed away yesterday, on his 86th birthday. Judge Merritt leaves behind three children, three grandchildren, and a life well-lived in public service.
Judge Merritt was born in Nashville, Tennessee on January 17, 1936. Aside from receiving a B.A. in 1957 from Yale and an L.L.M. from Harvard in 1962, Judge Merritt spent most of his life serving his home state. After receiving his L.L.B. from Vanderbilt University, Judge Merritt joined private practice in Nashville. His dedication to Tennessee included serving as: associate metropolitan attorney to the City of Nashville; lecturer, instructor, and assistant dean at Vanderbilt University Law School; Executive Secretary of the Tennessee Code Commission; U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee; and as a prominent Judge on the Sixth Circuit.
Judge Merritt served on the Sixth Circuit for over forty years, beginning in 1977. He served as the Court’s Chief Judge from 1989-1996. In 1993, Judge Merritt was considered a top contender for the Supreme Court seat to which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ultimately ascended. Upon hearing of his death, former Vice President Al Gore told The Tennessean that Judge Merritt was a “deeply intelligent and deliberative legal thinker, he was an ardent defender of the liberties that form the foundations of our Constitution.” He was passionate, colorful, and dedicated to justice–oral arguments were always more fun when he was on the panel.
We at the Blog, like so many across the country, are grateful for Judge Merritt’s nearly sixty years of combined public service. We join voices throughout the Sixth Circuit in thanking his family for sharing Judge Merritt with the nation, and we wish them well in this difficult time.