Guido Calabresi was born in Milan, Italy on October 18, 1932 to Bianca Maria Finzi-Contini and Massimo Calabresi. His family—both sides of which traced themselves back to Roman times and were very well off—could not seem to be more insiders. One grandfather had been an early student of Charcot, Freud’s teacher; the other was a leading industrialist and noted patriot-philanthropist during World War I. One grandmother came from a family with centuries-old intellectual roots; the other from extremely large landowners. Yet, the family’s fierce opposition to fascism would soon put this comfortable status into peril. His paternal grandfather’s anti-fascism had caused him to be excluded from his home city of Ferrara, and his father, having been beaten and jailed by the fascists as early as 1924, had become a key member of “Giustizia e Libertà” (Justice and Liberty), a small group of anti-fascists who were democrats, with a small “d.”
When Guido (as he is universally called) was born, his father, already a leading professor of cardiology, had made plans to leave Italy, but relented when his father told him that one should stay and fight. Still, under a fascist but not yet fully totalitarian regime, everyday life remained unbelievably comfortable for Guido and his family. Nevertheless, in early 1937, when Guido’s grandfather had died and the two leaders of Justice and Liberty had been murdered by the fascists, his father decided to flee. This turned out to be especially fortunate as the soon to be enacted racial laws would have changed the family’s position drastically. And, on September 16, 1939, Guido, his brother, Paolo, and his parents arrived, penniless, in New York.
Guido knew French and German, but only three words of English: yes, no, and briefcase. On September 18, he was in public school in New York, where he was bullied because he could not speak the language. When in January 1940, his father was given a fellowship at the Yale Medical School and the family moved to New Haven, life improved. But, in that New Haven and Yale, being Italian-Catholic-Jewish, meant being an outsider.
Some old New Haveners took a liking to Guido and his family, and as a result of what today would be called affirmative action, Guido and his brother (now called Paul) received scholarships to private day schools. They did well and went on to Yale College, where Guido received a BS degree in Analytical Economics,
summa cum laude. He won a Rhodes Scholarship and got a BA degree (and then an MA degree) degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, from Magdalen College, Oxford, with First Class Honours. He returned to New Haven and graduated from Yale Law School in 1958, first in his class.
After clerking for Justice Hugo Black, of the Supreme Court, Guido began teaching at Yale Law School in 1959. He became a full professor (the youngest in the school’s history) in 1962, and has been teaching there ever since. He married Anne Gordon Audubon Tyler, a friend since childhood, and a deeply rooted New Havener, in May 1961. They have three children, Bianca Finzi-Contini, a literature scholar, Anne Oldshue, a psychiatrist, and Massimo Franklin Tyler, a journalist, and four grandchildren. Guido’s wife, a graduate of Radcliffe (Harvard), is a cultural anthropologist, and his soul mate. She writes about Tuscan share-croppers (mezzadri), and is at the center of virtually every cause to better New Haven and its neediest.
Guido is considered one of the founders of the modern Law and Economics movement. He has written seven books and in- numerable articles in that and other fields of law, including espe- cially the role of courts in an age of statutes. Some of these rank among the most cited in the legal canon. As a result, he has re- ceived honorary degrees and other awards, too numerous to list, from scholarly and bar groups, as well as leading universities in America and throughout the world. Most of all, he has always viewed himself as a teacher who loves his students. He has taught Torts to first year students consistently for nearly 60 years.
In 1985 he became dean of the Yale Law School and is cred- ited with cementing its place as one of the leading law schools in the world. His appointments were ideologically and personally diverse, and uniformally regarded as the intellectual leaders of their generation. His mantra was “Excellence, but with Humanity and Decency.”
In early 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated Guido to the Court of Appeals, and in July the U.S. Senate confirmed him unanimously. He was formally sworn in on September 16, 1994, 55 years to the day of his landing in America. Before their deaths, his parents had become successful Professors of Cardiology and of Literature in New Haven. His brother was the Chief of Medicine at Brown University Medical School, and a founder of cancer chemotherapy. They had all overcome difficulties and had done well here. So, on taking office, Guido thanked America for all it had done for him and his family; this made him profoundly patriotic. But he also emphasized what America had not done for many others. And, he dedicated himself and his judgeship, under the law, to them. He reiterated that the most important part of his legal education was that he was a refugee and an immigrant. Having been and remaining an outsider after having been born an insider would, he hoped, continue to characterize him and his judgeship.
Guido loves to talk, and some scholars have described his legal philosophy as rooted in conversation – with other courts, and with members of the executive, legislative, and administrative branches, both federal and state. Hence, his particular support of certification of state law questions to state courts.
As a senior judge, Guido teaches 2/3 time, judges 2/3 time, and makes many trips to Italy where he frequently lectures on American Law and where, with his wife, he makes olive oil. This, Anne and Guido give to their friends, often together with home-made American raspberry jam, a symbol, perhaps, of their now-joint background.