Judge Joel Flaum of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals took senior status Monday, creating another vacancy on the appellate court that has welcomed four new judges and is preparing for a fifth since Donald Trump became president in 2017.
Flaum, 84, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed to the 7th Circuit on May 4, 1983.
This will be the second vacancy on the Chicago-based federal appellate court in recent months. The first was created when Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court in October. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Thomas Kirsch II has been nominated to fill that seat.
Following his graduation from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in 1963, Flaum worked briefly in private practice in Chicago before stepping into the public sector. He served as the assistant state’s attorney for Cook County then joined the Illinois Attorney General’s office before becoming the first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 1972 to 1975.
Flaum was nominated by President Gerald Ford and confirmed as a judge to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Dec. 18, 1974. At 38 years of age, he was then the youngest federal jurist in the country.
Almost nine years later, Flaum was elevated to the 7th Circuit. He served as chief judge from 2000 to 2006.
While a district judge and into his tenure on the appellate bench, Flaum served as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1981 to 1992, retiring with the rank of lieutenant commander.
Flaum was honored with the John Paul Stevens Award in 2003. Introducing Flaum, attorney Tyrone Fahner credited the judge with setting up the equivalent of a civil justice system in the navy that brought principles, rules and order to a previously unorganized system.
“Of greater significance than all his professional accomplishments is his kindness and other attributes as a person both on and off the bench,” Fahner said. “Joel is widely known … for his integrity, his decency, his selflessness and his willingness to help all those in need.”
In a 2008 interview with the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, Flaum talked about his childhood working in the family grocery story in Hudson, New York, and his decision to settle in Chicago after he graduated college. He said he became intrigued with the law in grade school after reading an article in the Weekly Reader, then he was encouraged to become a lawyer by a high school teacher.
“I’m pretty much in love with the law … and the opportunity to serve this long has been a great reward to me,” Flaum said. “I just come to work every day and I’m privileged to hold the job.”
Flaum was inducted as a laureate of the Lincoln Academy in 2008.