Yale Law School Professor Emeritus, Robert Burt LAW ’64, a member of the school’s faculty for 39 years, died yesterday in Massachusetts. He was 76 years old.
Burt, nicknamed “Bo,” was an expert on constitutional law, the intersection between religion and law and the legal issues raised by medicine. His interest and experience in these fields are reflected in many of the courses he taught at YLS, including “Family Law,” “Medicine Ethics,” and “Regulating Love, Sex & Marriage.”
“It is a great loss to this community, to the world of legal scholarship, and to the many friends throughout the globe who loved Bo,” YLS Dean Robert Post said in a statement on the law school website. “Bo was a dear friend and a generous colleague. He was wise as well as learned.”
Burt received a BA from Princeton in 1960, an MA in Jurisprudence from Oxford in 1962 and a JD from Yale in 1964. Afterwards, Burt clerked for David Bazelon, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In addition, Burt worked as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings of Maryland.
Throughout his career, Burt wrote six books, with the most recent one published in 2012. Further, he wrote more than 70 journal articles, pertaining to his work in both law and medicine, and over 20 periodical articles and book reviews.
YLS professor James Silk LAW ’89 said that when he was a student at YLS, he took classes on constitutional law and the death penalty with Burt. Silk said Burt was an engaging teacher who considered his students’ views very seriously.
“Bo brought his compassion and commitment to justice into every discussion in that [death penalty] class and encouraged all of us to think creatively about issues,” Silk said.
But Silk said he got to know Burt much better when Silk joined the YLS faculty 16 years ago. As a colleague, Silk said, Burt was both perceptive and gracious, and his questions at conferences and meetings were consistently memorable.
In addition to his role as an academic, Burt held more policy-focused positions at other organizations around the country. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, where he served as chair from 1990 until 2000. Further, he was a member of the advisory boards of the Greenwall Foundation Bioethics Faculty Scholar Program from 2003 to 2012 and of the Project on Death in America of the Open Society Institute from 1993 to 2003.
In 2003, Burt spearheaded an effort on behalf of 44 YLS professors to maintain federal funding while banning military recruiters from participating in career events. The rationale behind barring these recruiters was that the military’s prohibitive stance at the time toward openly gay members of the armed forces contradicted YLS’s discrimination policy. YLS Professor Owen Fiss said that of all of Burt’s accomplishments, he thinks Burt was most proud of this effort.
Fiss also said Burt was a colleague of tremendous distinction, and that he was very devoted to the school and its students.
“He had close working relationships with students, he delighted in crossing disciplinary boundaries, and he endlessly worked, in the classroom and beyond, to further the humanistic values to which [YLS] is devoted.”