Harvard Law School Library is saddened by the passing of HLS Professor Charles Fried, the Beneficial Professor of Law, who was a frequent user of the HLS Library, and a man of incredible intellect and wit.
We remember Prof. Fried as a kind and curious man who had a wonderful sense of humor and who never failed to say “good morning” to everyone he passed. In October 2023, he attended our Notes & Comment program (at which faculty members meet with students to provide feedback on their papers) where he enjoyed chatting with students, learning about them and their work. He was also a frequent participant in other library-sponsored events.
HLS Vice Dean of Library and Information Services Jonathan Zittrain recalls, “Charles Fried was both deeply serious and deeply mischievous. He loved playing with ideas while always cognizant of real-world stakes. He was both admirably consistent in his principles while ready to change his mind as new facts arose and his perspectives grew and developed.”

Prof. Fried was the author of many books and publications, as seen on his faculty webpage, on matters related to contracts, medical experimentation, minorities, modern liberty, tort law, and much more.

He officially retired from HLS in November 2023, at which time President of the Harvard Federalist Society Benjamin Pontz ‘24 said, “Charles Fried is a pioneer, a polymath, and a patriot who, over the past 62 years, has embodied the highest ideals of what it means to be a professor at Harvard Law School. For four decades, he has also served as the Harvard Federalist Society’s advisor, a role in which his sage counsel, unflinching integrity, and enthusiastic support have helped make Harvard Law School the best place in America to be a conservative law student. Our chapter – indeed, our law school – is better for his work, and we congratulate him on six decades of marvelous service to this community.”
Prof. Fried authored many Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor(s) on a wide range of topics.

In November 2023, he wrote a Letter to the Editors of the New York Review in response to a review of A Prisoner of His Own Restraint by Jed. S. Rakoff. The book told the story of Felix Frankfurter, a renowned liberal lawyer and advocate, who went on to become a conservative Supreme Court justice. Prof. Fried said the review was “incorrect in one detail: the turn to more progressive decisions dates at least from FDR’s reconstitution of the Supreme Court in his second term, after the failure of the court-packing plan…The radical differences started with the Roberts Court. The press likes to describe these and the justices who animated this trend as conservative. They were not that – think Edmund Burke, the iconic conservative. The correct term is ‘reactionary,’ and the best description of what they are doing is a program to repeal the twentieth century.”
In December 2023, Prof. Fried wrote an Op-Ed to the Harvard Crimson entitled “President Gay Was Right: Context Matters,” in which he expressed support for Harvard University’s then-President Claudine Gay related to her recent testimony in front of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding antisemitism on college campuses (recently-escalated due to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict). He said, “I have taught at Harvard Law School since 1961 and began practicing before the Supreme Court in 1985 – for four years as Solicitor General of the United States [under President Ronald Reagan] – and I would have felt professionally obligated to answer as the presidents did. It does depend on the context.”
As noted above, Prof. Fried was known to change his mind, and he participated in a library-sponsored HLS Beyond program entitled “Why I Changed My Mind,” where he, along with HLS Prof. Rachel Viscomi, shared with students times when he changed his mind.

In Prof. Fried’s obituary in the New York Times, Justice Stephen G. Breyer “suggested in a statement that Mr. Fried was willing to change his views because of his innate intellectual honesty.” Justice Breyer was quoted as saying, “Charles loved ideas…He would try them out on his colleagues and friends, discarding some, developing others, and always listening to the thoughts of others.”
Professor Charles Fried will be greatly missed by many, and especially his friends at the Harvard Law School Library.

HLSL reference librarian Lisa Lilliott Rydin contributed to this article

Charles Fried black and white faculty photo.

Professor Charles Fried: By the Numbers

Of the 72 articles HeinOnline has attributed to Prof. Fried in its Law Journal Library, two have (each) been cited in more than 500 subsequent articles, including:

1.     Charles Fried, The Lawyer as Friend: The Moral Foundations of the Lawyer-Client Relation, 85 YALE. L.J. 1060 (1976). ** Cited by 775 articles

2.     Charles Fried, Privacy, 77 YALE L.J. 475 (1968). **Cited by 694 articles
According to ProQuest Supreme Court Insight, Prof. Fried appeared in Oral Arguments before the Supreme Court 27 times (between 1985-2002)

7 of the 27 appearances were as Amicus; and 7 of the remaining 20 cases have been flagged by ProQuest as being “Landmark” cases.

The Supreme Court brief written by Charles Fried and Kathleen Sullivan for United States v. Eichman (1990) (aka “the flag burning case”) was included in the book The Great Advocates Legal Briefs: Covering Six Historic Cases (edited by Steven D. Stark, 1994).

Image Detail of Charles Fried, circa 1975, HOLLIS 8001716874, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections

Filed in: In the Community

Contact Us
phone: 617-495-3455
email: asklib@law.harvard.edu
library website: hls.harvard.edu/library

Stay Connected
Library Innovation Lab (LIL) Blog
Instagram @hlslibrary
Facebook @hlslibrary

Et Seq blog (archived)