Law professor named one of most influential people in American legal history 

Tom Snee

The University of Iowa  News Services

University of Iowa News Release

September 3, 2009

A new book has named University of Iowa law professor and Iowa City native Nicholas Johnson as one of the most influential people in American legal history.

The book, "The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law," profiles roughly 700 individuals considered leading figures in the history of American law, from the colonial era to the present. The editor, Roger Newman of Columbia University, says the book describes "men and women who have devised, replenished, expounded and explained American law" and who have had the most significant and lasting impact.

Johnson's biographical entry in the dictionary focuses on his tenure as commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, from 1966 to 1973. It notes that he opposed a merger of ABC-TV and International Telegraph and Telephone Co. (ITT) that had been approved by the commission. His opposition eventually led ITT to abandon the merger.

Johnson also helped establish FCC policies regarding the First Amendment rights of broadcasters and audiences, and anti-smoking public service announcements.

It notes that he often went outside usual Washington channels to advocate for his positions with dissenting opinions, Congressional testimony, speeches, articles, books and television appearances. His outspokenness eventually led to a cover story in the April 1, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, making him the only University of Iowa faculty member to appear on the cover of that magazine.

The bio notes that economist John Kenneth Galbraith called Johnson "the citizens' least frightened friend in Washington."

Johnson was born in 1934 and grew up in Iowa City. He returned to Iowa after his tenure in Washington, D.C., and has taught at the UI College of Law since 1981.

The only other persons profiled in the book who have connections to the University of Iowa law school are Herbert Goodrich, a federal judge who taught briefly at UI in the 1920s, and Wiley Rutledge, who was dean of the law school from 1935-1939. Rutledge would eventually serve as justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1943 to 1949.

Iowa law professors Herbert Hovenkamp and Lea VanderVelde also contributed profiles to the dictionary as authors. Hovenkamp wrote the profile of Phillip E. Areeta and VanderVelde wrote the entry for Dred Scott.

Most of the people in the book are prominent attorneys, judges, law professors and others in the legal field, such as John Marshall, Robert Bork, Sandra Day O'Connor, Janet Reno, Franklin Roosevelt, James Madison, Thurgood Marshall and Scott Turow.

It also lists several people from outside the legal profession who made a significant impact on the law, such as Patrick Henry, Alexis deTocqueville and O.J. Simpson.

Published by Yale University Press, the "Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law" is available online at


STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),