In a courtroom in Wichita, the day begins much as it has for the past 49 years: Court is in session, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown presiding. But what happens next is no longer routine; it's a testament to one man's sheer determination.
As lawyers and litigants wait in respectful silence, Brown, who is 103, carefully steers his power wheelchair behind the bench, his stooped frame almost disappearing behind its wooden bulk. He adjusts under his nose the plastic tubes from the oxygen tank lying next to the day's case documents. Then his voice rings out loud and firm to his law clerk, "Call your case."
Brown is the oldest working federal judge in the nation, one of four appointees by President Kennedy still on the bench. Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, and no one has taken that term more seriously than Brown.
"As a federal judge, I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first," Brown quipped in an interview. How does he plan to leave the post? "Feet first," he says.
In a profession where advanced age isn't unusual — and, indeed, is valued as a source of judicial wisdom — Brown has left legal colleagues awestruck by his stamina and devotion to work. His service also epitomizes how the federal court system keeps working even as litigation steadily increases, new judgeships remain rare, and judicial openings go unfilled for months or years.