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Carl Muecke, 89; retired U.S. judge was guided by his liberal convictions

September 25, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Carl Muecke, a retired federal judge who handled many important decisions during his years based in Phoenix including desegregating Arizona schools before the U.S. Supreme Court made it federal law, died in his sleep Friday at his summer home in Flagstaff. Muecke, who had battled Alzheimer's disease and other ailments, was 89.

"He had strong liberal convictions, like many of us who grew up during the Depression," said longtime friend and former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. "He made some people unhappy as a judge, but he had a sense of justice that was striking."

If Muecke's decisions were controversial, U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee said, it was because "a lot of the decisions that come before you make you controversial. Carl never shied away from his principled positions -- whether people liked it or not."

A native of New York City who served with the Marines in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, Muecke (pronounced Mickey) moved to Phoenix in 1946.

Muecke worked for a liberal newspaper named the Arizona Times, and when it folded he changed professions and became a labor union organizer.

A 1941 graduate of William and Mary College, he was in his 30s when he attended the University of Arizona Law School.

Leading up to the 1960 presidential election, Muecke, Udall and William Mahoney campaigned for John F. Kennedy in Arizona.

When Kennedy won, he appointed Udall as Interior secretary, Mahoney to an ambassadorship and made Muecke the U.S. attorney for Phoenix.

President Johnson appointed Muecke to the federal bench in 1964 over the objections of the state's then-junior senator, Barry Goldwater, who was concerned about Muecke's labor activities.

In the mid-1990s, Muecke sparred with then-Gov. Fife Symington over whether state prisoners should be allowed access to law libraries and what size Christmas packages they could receive.

In 1995, when Muecke prohibited logging in Southwest forests until the U.S. Forest Service agreed to follow the Endangered Species Act and evaluate the habitat of spotted owls, he received anonymous death threats and was hanged in effigy by loggers.

Muecke retired from the federal bench in 1997.

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