By Gwyneth K. Shaw
Berkeley Law has received a commitment of an initial $3.6 million to create the Thomas David and Judith Swope Clark Chair in Constitutional Law, with an estate plan for an additional significant gift. Besides providing endowed support for a tenured professor, the chair holder — who will be named later — will also run an annual symposium on constitutional interpretation.
Tom Clark ’72 made the legacy donation as a way to honor his wife, who died in 2022, and to support “scholarship that can help stem the tide and return us to appropriate analysis of interpretation of the Constitution,” he says.
The Clarks met in high school in northern California and entered UC Berkeley as undergraduates one year apart. Tom started law school in 1967, and married Judie the following year. In 1969, after his 2L year, Tom was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam, where he served for 14 months. He returned to Berkeley Law after his discharge, then went to work for the Port of Oakland as the family settled in Piedmont.
Tom calls his Berkeley Law education — which he says cost him $450 a semester in his final year — “one of the best gifts I ever received.”
“Judie and I loved UC Berkeley. It provided us the best and most financially feasible education available to non-wealthy middle-class students like us,” he says. “Berkeley Law provided benefits not just to me, but also to the community, state, and nation, so I knew in 2022 it had to be the best use for much of my and Judie’s estate.”
Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a world-renowned constitutional scholar, says Tom’s gift will be a wonderful asset to the school.
“I am thrilled at the gift from Tom Clark to create a chair in constitutional law,” Chemerinsky says. “This is obviously such a core area of our curriculum and scholarship; it is law that affects everyone in the most important and intimate aspects of our lives.
“The gift also provides for us to hold an annual conference on constitutional interpretation, a subject of enormous importance, especially at this moment in American history.”
A lasting legacy
The Clarks spent a lifetime saving for their retirement, as well as to support their daughter, Olivia, who has suffered significant disabilities since an early age. Tom worked for the Port of Oakland until 2006, covering a wide range of issues, from maritime and shipping to public trust and other major public law matters.
In 2012, Judie was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, and Tom took on caregiving responsibilities for her, modifying their longtime home to support her needs.
“Soon after Judie died, I realized that my efforts to accumulate assets to support Judie and Olivia in fear I would predecease them resulted in far more than I or Olivia would ever need,” he says.
A home winemaker for nearly 50 years, Tom pursued buying a restaurant, but ultimately concluded the venture wasn’t worth it. That’s when the idea of establishing an endowment at Berkeley Law took hold.
Through a friend, Tom began reading more about the rise of antisemitism in America. He noted approvingly how Chemerinsky handled questions, inside and outside the law school, about free speech, particularly involving campus speakers. After noticing a review of the dean’s 2022 book Worse Than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism, Tom read it, finding Chemerinsky’s take on the subject deeply convincing.
So when he began talks with staff from Berkeley Law’s Development & Alumni Relations office, Tom already had a strong sense of how he wanted his gift to be used. He hopes the professor who holds the chair and the annual symposium will foster close and continuing study of the U.S. Supreme Court and its decisions, particularly those by justices who embrace the originalist approach.
“I want scholarship that can help stem the tide and return us to appropriate analysis of interpretation of the Constitution,” he says. “I want my endowment to support a great change in the wind to pilot these great outlines to a true and faithful port of interpretation.”
Paying it forward
Tom, the product of Welsh Mormon and Finnish Baptist immigrants, grew up with “a belief that civil government under our Constitution is a force for good that must be curbed to protect individual rights and liberties.” His great-great grandfather, William Lykins, was a judge in 1820s Kentucky, and his son, grandson, and great-granddaughter were lawyers, along with Tom and his older brother Paul.
Tom was so certain he’d follow in those footsteps that he gave a speech at his junior high’s career day declaring it. He felt similarly after a visit to the UC Berkeley campus as a high school senior, when he walked through the law school’s halls and vowed to one day join its ranks.
Life as a law student fulfilled all his expectations. Tom took Torts from Professor Robert Cole, typing his notes out after every class. Berkeley Law legends Frank C. Newman, Herma Hill Kay, Philip Johnson, Bernard Diamond, and John Hetland were among his other favorite professors.
“I reveled in studying at Berkeley Law,” he says. “The multiplicity of legal subject matter that fascinated me at Berkeley Law continued in my legal practice.”
Tom says he’s proud of the way Chemerinsky has led the school, and that getting to know the dean and reconnecting with Berkeley Law has been gratifying and satisfying. So, too, has making the gift, something he hadn’t previously imagined he could do. He encourages other alumni to consider it.
“In the twilight of my life, when all more mundane adventures are past, I wish for all alumni — especially for those past their 70s — to consider what they and their family really need, that they cannot take their nest eggs with them, that our wonderful and outstanding Berkeley Law is a living treasure for the nation, state, and region and should be nourished, and that a gift to Berkeley Law can give them, as my endowment has given me, incredible and unimaginable pleasure.”