Weinstein, Bharara Awarded Lawrence A. Wien Prize for Social Responsibility
Annual Columbia Law School Honor Recognizes Individuals for Outstanding Public Service Achievements
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara ’93, Dean David M. Schizer, and Senior U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein ’48 at the Wien Prize luncheon. The annual Columbia Law School award honors lawyers who make an outstanding contribution to the public good.
Distinguished alumni, faculty, and guests gathered in the grand ballroom of The Pierre in Manhattan on Nov. 8 to honor this year’s recipients of the Lawrence A. Wien Prize for Social Responsibility, Judge Jack B. Weinstein ’48 and Preet Bharara ’93.
Columbia Law School established the award in 1982 through the generosity of prominent philanthropist Lawrence A. Wien ’27. The honor recognizes lawyers who make outstanding contributions to the public good through their legal careers. Weinstein, a senior U.S. district court judge for the Eastern District of New York, has exerted enormous influence in the field of mass tort litigation, while Bharara has tackled organized crime, financial fraud, public corruption, and terrorism as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“There is nothing, in my opinion, more inspiring to celebrate than the great legacy of public service at Columbia Law School as exemplified by our two spectacular honorees, Jack Weinstein and Preet Bharara,” David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, told the audience.
Emotions ran high at times during the event as speakers and guests feted the honorees’ dedication to public service. When it came time for Bharara to receive his award, Dean Schizer made a surprise announcement that he had decided to relinquish his presenting duties to someone significantly closer to the honoree: Bharara’s brother, Vinit Bharara ’96.
Vinit Bharara ’96 says his brother, Preet Bharara, showed a passion for fairness even in childhood.
Vinit Bharara told the audience that his brother’s passion for fairness and equality was evident even in childhood, when he ensured that household chores and privileges—like access to the TV remote—were always split 50-50 between the two siblings. As he moved toward adulthood, Preet Bharara’s commitment to justice only intensified, his brother said in a poignant speech. As an example of this acute sense of right and wrong, Vinit Bharara quoted excerpts from the high school graduation address his brother gave as class valedictorian in which he defended a teacher unfairly dismissed by the principal.
“I remember Preet captivating everyone [with his speech], and I remember this thundering standing ovation, and I remember being in awe,” Vinit Bharara told the audience. “I remember being in awe at these gifts he had, this ability to win minds with his intellect, but also hearts with his humor, charm, and charisma. And I’ve seen these extraordinary gifts on display many times since then. And each time I have always been proud.”
After taking the stage to a standing ovation, Preet Bharara, whose team of prosecutors most recently secured the high-profile conviction of Raj Rajaratnam on insider trading charges, praised his parents for teaching the brothers about social responsibility and public service. He then recalled a talk he gave to his office during the recent commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In the face of such a world-altering tragedy, Bharara said, “good people make a commitment lasting not merely for a moment, or a day, or a year, but for as long as they have breath, to dismiss the differences among them and awaken to what is important.”
Bharara added: “It is a commitment to living life in the service not just of one’s self, but also for the benefit of other people. It is a commitment to carry whatever load one’s limbs can bear, and make whatever sacrifice one’s spirit can tolerate to, in the words of Aeschylus, ‘tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.’”
Dean Schizer echoed this commitment to the common good in presenting the award to Weinstein, a Law School faculty member from 1952 to 1998 who has presided over thousands of cases during more than 40 years on the federal bench. Lauding Weinstein’s brilliance and creativity, Dean Schizer quoted Professor John C. Coffee Jr.’s assessment of the judge’s approach to the bench.
“A unique and critical element of the Weinstein style is a quiet but determined recognition that there are moral imperatives in judging, and the judge cannot be used, even indirectly and minimally, to assist the state to achieve an unjust end,” Dean Schizer cited Coffee as saying.
Dean Schizer also quoted an even higher authority than Professor Coffee—the Dean’s mother, Hazel Gerber Schizer ’59, who was an early student of Weinstein’s at the Law School. “I asked her about the experience,” Dean Schizer told the audience. “She said [he] ‘transmitted to his students his contagious love of the law and his joy in its study. The effect of this teaching lasts a lifetime.’ I think we all feel that way.”
Weinstein took the stage as the event’s final speaker, telling of the incredible devotion of the Law School’s professors to their students when he arrived as part of the Class of 1948. “We understood almost immediately that we were joining a glorious profession with the obligation to improve society after the horrors of the Depression and the war that we had seen and gone through as participants,” Weinstein said.
Through all of the curricular changes since then that have made Columbia Law School better than ever, Weinstein said, the central elements of the Law School have remained. “That spark between professor and student,” he said. “That burden that we undertake as students going through Columbia to improve the law, to ensure that justice is done to every individual, and to create a just society. If I have done any public good, it is because of Columbia Law School.”
View a photo gallery of the event
Read more about Preet and Vinit Bharara
Read a Q&A with Judge Jack B. Weinstein