February 8, 2006
Yale Law Journal Tribute to Boris Bittker
We previously published (here and here) a memorial tribute to Boris Bittker (Yale), one of the true tax giants of the 20th century. The current issue of the Yale Law Journal contains four tributes to Boris:
- Marvin Chirelstein, Boris I. Bittker, 115 Yale L.J. 737 (2006):
Boris was a perfect scholar. He loved his topic, loved to write, and of course beautifully. His books, treatises, and articles in the tax field were of the highest quality and originality, and the volume of his output was, to my mind, miraculous. Along with that, however, he never appeared to be hurried, there was never a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his office door, and he was always readily interruptible. In short, he was the scholarly ideal we all hoped to match, but never could.
- Michael J. Graetz, Boris I. Bittker, 115 Yale L.J. 739 (2006):
As everyone here knows, Boris Bittker was a pathbreaking scholar of federal tax law. His treatises on taxation cover the entire range of income and estate tax issues. They are found on the shelves of virtually every law and accounting firm in the nation. Boris was also a prolific author of law review articles, many of which had great impact on the key tax policy debates of the past five decades. Boris’s scholarship was always sharp, insightful, and elegantly written. a little edge.
- Louis H. Pollak, Remembering Boris, 115 Yale L.J. 745 (2006):
Of the quality and significance of Boris’s tax scholarship, the testimony will have to come not from me, but from those qualified to assess it. I will content myself with the submission that Boris’s preeminence in tax law has no analog in other fields of law today or for many generations back. Even Arthur Corbin had Samuel Williston to contend with.
- John G. Simon, Let Us Count the Ways: A Tribute to Boris Bittker, 115 Yale L.J. 751 (2006)
How do we remember Boris? Let us count the ways. What is salient for hundreds or thousands is the memory of his inspired teaching, a memory I share from his tax classes fifty-four years ago, including the humor: “I am, at heart,” he said, “a ham.” An even larger audience stands in awe (as I do) of the monumental written output that made Boris the First Lord of American tax scholars....
While Boris was often ahead of the curve — he often presaged innovation — he was not a fan of all innovations; he did not think well of all new curves. Thus, another aspect of Bittkerian independence was his relentless scrutiny of conventional wisdom, either new-fangled or old-fangled. The same independent skepticism that he brought to the “constitutionalizing” of tax policy, to the “subsidy” theory of exemption, and to black reparations also surfaced in his resistance to some of the vogue-ish nostrums in tax reform policy. Two examples: the quest for a “comprehensive tax base” (Boris thought it to be a mirage) and the concept of a “tax expenditure” budget as a way of unmasking and presumably condemning “subsidies” (conceptually sloppy,Boris thought, and a practical nightmare). He was also opposed to the easy cant employed by many tax reformers who, for example, hurled the “loophole” epithet as a substitute for analysis. “[T]he time has come,” “for a drastic revision of the rhetoric of tax reform.”
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As a student and subsequently a lecturer on tax law, I used Prof. Bittker's tax treatise on corporations and shareholders as my tax bible. His periodic updates were jammed with much more relevant information than most tax updates.
I subsequently learned that Prof. Bittker had published a treatise on the commerce clause. That, too, was done very professionally and completely. Perhaps the commerce clause has lost some of its New Deal luster under the Rehnquist Court but it may indeed rise again. Hopefully this treatise will continue with updates.
I never met Prof. Bittker. But reading his texts were a joy.
Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Feb 8, 2006 6:38:38 AM