Chester J. Straub was born to Chester and Ann Straub (née Majewski) on May 12, 1937, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—a neighborhood so famously Polish-American that the two bridges connecting it to Queens are named for Kazimierz Pulaski and Tadeusz Koœciuszko, the Polish military commanders and American Revolutionary War heroes.
As a teenager, Judge Straub’s father had moved to Brooklyn from upstate New York with a one-way railroad ticket and instructions to drive a truck for his uncle at Straub Beverages in Greenpoint. Thereafter, Straub, Sr., started his own business with a one-room store to sell butter and eggs. It was in this family undertaking that Judge Straub worked until he had completed two years of law school. At his Second Circuit induction ceremony, Judge Straub would remember his father’s business as the epitome of Brooklyn’s melting-pot culture, recalling a store full of “gentlemen in yarmulkes dealing with the problems of the local yeshiva,” “bodega owners from Williamsburg trying to determine how they might get the Sanitation Department to respond,” Polish-American women “buying eggs and . . . babkas,” and Italian-Americans “from another part of the community seeking our finest ricotta.”1 Judge Straub’s father used this “atmosphere” to teach his son “the importance of the inclusiveness of our society and . . . how important it [is] to participate in the public process”—lessons that he would put to good use during a long and distinguished career in the public and private sectors.2
Judge Straub attended St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Greenpoint, followed by Brooklyn Preparatory School, known as Brooklyn Prep. Now defunct, Brooklyn Prep was a prestigious Jesuit high school that attracted studious, ambitious boys from all over New York—including Judge Straub’s future colleague on the Second Circuit, Judge Joseph McLaughlin.
Judge Straub continued his education in the Jesuit tradition at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey, where he received a B.A. degree in 1958. From St. Peter’s, he went on to the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was a contemporary of three future U.S. senators (Edward “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts, John Tunney of California, and Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri) and two future federal judges (Eugene Siler, Jr., of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and G. Kendall Sharp of the District Court for the Middle District of Florida). Judge Straub had been guided to the law by his “Babcia, [his] Polish immigrant grandmother,” who had laid out three potential paths for him to follow: priest, doctor, or lawyer.3 “The spirit didn’t move [him] to the cloth,” and he was “hardly a scientist at any stage of [his] development,” but “her advice about the law stuck with [him].”4
After his graduation from law school in 1961, Judge Straub served as a first lieutenant in U.S. Army Intelligence and Security for two years, before entering private practice at the venerable Wall Street law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, where he made partner in 1971. It was during his time at Willkie Farr that he entered politics, becoming one of the last citizen-lawyers to combine practice at a major national law firm with service in elected office.
Running as a Democrat, Judge Straub won a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1966, and he represented his home district of Greenpoint there until 1972. During his time in the Assembly, he served as the chair of the Assembly’s Democratic Policy Committee and as a member of the Committees on the Judiciary, Ways & Means, and Ethics & Guidance. In 1972, he was elected to the New York State Senate, where he served as the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Corporations, Authorities & Public Utilities and as a member of the Committees on the Judiciary, Health, Civil Service & Pensions, Housing & Urban Development, and Transportation. Throughout his service in the legislature, Judge Straub and his family continued to reside in Greenpoint, in an apartment above his father’s store, moving to Bronxville in Westchester County only after his retirement from active electoral politics.
Judge Straub’s Senate term was not without controversy. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, he triggered a “bitter debate” on the Senate floor when he introduced a petition requesting that the U.S. House of Representatives impeach President Richard Nixon.5 Judge Straub explained to his colleagues that Section 603 of Thomas Jefferson’s
Manual of Parliamentary Practice—adopted by the House as its rules of procedure in 1837—permitted impeachment proceedings to be initiated through “charges transmitted from the legislature of a state.”6 Republican Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson was not amused. He referred Judge Straub’s petition to the Finance Committee, “which the Democratic minority view[ed] as a burial ground for its ideas.”7 Undeterred, Straub eventually “managed to read his statement in support of his petition under cover of a debate over another bill.”8 Anderson made known, on the legislative floor, his continued displeasure by forewarning Judge Straub that he “ha[d] [his] ways” of dealing with such matters.9 At the coming legislative reapportionment, the lines of Judge Straub’s legislative district were sufficiently altered so as to make the next legislative election somewhat more challenging. Nevertheless, upon Judge Straub’s nomination to the Second Circuit, Anderson would be the first Republican to encourage Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, to act favorably.
Judge Straub resigned from the Senate in 1975, in part “to prevent a conflict of interest between his law practice” at Willkie Farr, “which involved state bonds and notes, and his elective post.”10 But his involvement in politics was far from over. The following year, he became counsel to the Moynihan Committee, the campaign to elect Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York to the U.S. Senate. Judge Straub had previously worked for Moynihan in his unsuccessful effort to become the Democratic nominee for president of the New York City Council (an office that no longer exists). In addition to his participation in the successful Senate effort, Judge Straub would chair Senator Moynihan’s re-election campaigns in 1982, 1988, and 1994. Judge Straub later characterized his “participation with and for Pat Moynihan over the years” as one his life’s great opportunities “to do something of significance, perhaps have an impact, and take satisfaction from it.”11 Judge Straub learned from Senator Moynihan “to put principle above party, and . . . that the public interest is more significant than public approval of the moment.”12
Senator Moynihan, a political scientist and student of international relations by training, would in turn credit Judge Straub (along with another of his closest advisors, Leonard Garment) with informing him “that United States Senators choose District Judges. I didn’t know that. I thought bishops did perhaps.”13 According to Senator Moynihan, it was Judge Straub and Mr. Garment who “suggested that we create a Judicial Selection Committee” to make the judicial appointment process more transparent and bipartisan.14 Following their advice, Senator Moynihan and his Republican counterpart, Senator Jacob Javits, instituted an arrangement pursuant to which the senator whose political party did not control the White House would make every fourth “designation” of a prospect for appointment. In Senator Moynihan’s words, “In the history of the Republic, nothing of the kind had ever happened. And I think it has been emulated around the country. . . . It was that level of openness and of sharing that so distinguished [Judge Straub’s political] career in so many ways . . . .”15 Judge Straub would also play a crucial role in judicial appointments at the state level, serving as the chair of Governor Mario Cuomo’s Statewide Judicial Screening Committee from 1988 to 1994. Judge Straub had also served as a member of the Democratic National Committee.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton nominated Judge Straub to the Second Circuit. The U.S. Senate confirmed him by voice vote the same year. But even in Judge Straub’s new judicial role, issues of political significance continued to arise before him. In one of the many notable opinions that he authored, Judge Straub’s majority held that certain Vermont campaign-finance laws were “supported by [the state’s] compelling interests in safeguarding [its] democratic process from (1) the corruptive influence of excessive and unbridled fundraising and (2) the effect that perpetual fundraising has on the time of candidates and elected officials.”16 Similarly, Judge Straub led a unanimous panel in striking down New York State’s system of nominating its Supreme Court Judges via political boss control of judicial convention delegates rather than by direct voter expression at the ballot box.17 The Supreme Court disagreed in both cases.
During his time on the bench, Judge Straub has also become well-known for his measured dissents. A law review article devoted to that subject described one of their “over-arching themes” as his “ever-watchful eye on the boundaries of the judicial role and the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit,” and noted that they “placed heavy emphasis on not only maintaining clarity in jurisprudence, but also keeping the lines of precedent well- defined and the interpretation of such precedents uncomplicated.”18
Prior to joining the Second Circuit, Judge Straub served as a mediator in the District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York and a special master in the New York County Supreme Court. Judge Straub was also a longtime trustee of the Lenox Hill Hospital, a member of the Cardinal’s Committee for the Laity of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Judge Straub took senior status in 2008.
He resides in Bronxville with his wife of 57 years, Pat, with whom he raised four sons—the late Chet, Jr., (assistant secretary of commerce for economic development under President Clinton), Mike (a lawyer in Vermont), Chris (a director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York), and Robert (a doctor in Georgia). Judge Straub and Mrs. Straub also have seven grandchildren—Mira, Christopher, Jr., Nicholas, Robert, Jr., Daphne, Lindsey, and Jack.
1. Judge Chester J. Straub, Remarks, at the Induction Proceedings for Chester J. Straub 18 (July 27, 1998) (transcript on file with the United States Courts Library for the Second Circuit).
3. Id. at 17–18.
4. Id. at 18.
5. Linda Greenhouse, Impeachment Debate Argued and Scuttled in Albany, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 26, 1974, at 30.
9. Francis X. Clines, The Political Hopefuls Are Squaring Off, N.Y. TIMES, June 9, 1974, at 101.
10. Special Elections Slated To Fill 2 Legislature Seats, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 8, 1976, at 37.
11. Judge Chester J. Straub, Remarks, supra note 1, at 16.
13. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Remarks at the Induction Proceedings for Chester J. Straub 8 (July 27, 1998) (transcript on file with the United States Courts Library for the Second Circuit).
15. Id. at 9.
16. Landell v. Sorrell, 382 F.3d 91, 97 (2d Cir. 2004).
17. Lopez Torres v. New York State Board of Elections, 462 F.3d 161 (2d Cir. 2006).
18. Danielle L. Levine, Staying True to the Ideals of Fundamental Fairness: An Empirical Study of the Dissents of Judge Straub, 75 ALB. L. REV. 1163, 1173, 1184 (2012).