A Tribute to the Life and Work of Judge Alfred Theodore “Ted” Goodwin

“Judge Goodwin was loved by everyone on the court, and undoubtedly by everyone who got to know him. His wit, kindness, and modesty were legendary. He had an outstanding legal mind and a reputation for objectivity, and he wrote beautifully. He was a judge’s judge, straight out of central casting, though he did not crave the limelight. We will all miss him terribly.”

–Judge Goodwin’s memorial at the Pioneer Courthouse, April 27, 2023.

Judge Goodwin’s life story is a long, unbroken, and tremendously impressive series of personal and professional achievements. His is the all-American story. 

Born June 29, 1923, in his mother’s hometown of Bellingham, Washington, Judge Goodwin was the eldest of eight siblings. His mother, Miriam, was a homemaker. His father, Alonzo, was an itinerant Baptist preacher who led congregations in logging towns across Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Alonzo eventually took a church in Prineville, Oregon, where Judge Goodwin graduated from high school and worked on ranches during the summers, becoming a passionate horseman.

Quote from oral history

Tumalo OR, 1938. Courtesy of the Goodwin family, used with permission.

After two years at the University of Oregon, Judge Goodwin was called up for military service in 1943. He served in the Army as a captain during World War II, in Germany and the Philippines. His sharp mind led to his becoming an “education officer.”

He left the Army in 1946 and returned to university, where he graduated in 1947 with a B.A. in Journalism. As an undergraduate, he was the editor of the student newspaper and worked as a reporter for Eugene’s The Register-Guard. He continued working as a reporter during graduate school.

In 1949, he married Mary Ellin Handelin, the love of his life. They raised four children: Karl, Meg, Sara, and Jim, who blessed them with five grandchildren.

Image at right: WWII 1944-1945. Courtesy of the Goodwin family, used with permission.

Quote from family or another photo from this time frame

Image at left: The Goodwin family, c. 1960. Courtesy of the Goodwin family, used with permission.

Judge Goodwin received his J.D. from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1951 and joined a local law firm. Four years later, in 1955, Governor Paul Patterson appointed him to the Lane County Circuit Court, where he was a trial judge until 1960 when Governor Mark Hatfield elevated him to an open seat on the Oregon Supreme Court.

 In one noteworthy case as a trial judge, Judge Goodwin struck down Oregon’s obscenity law, a decision later reversed by the Oregon Supreme Court just before he joined that court. Later, when Governor Hatfield became a U.S. Senator, he twice recommended Judge Goodwin for an open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Judge Goodwin served on the Oregon Supreme Court for ten years, where he became known for his skill in writing opinions. Two such opinions stand out: In 1969, Judge Goodwin ruled that a large cross atop Spencer’s Butte in Eugene should be removed. The same year, he wrote an opinion denying a private landowner’s claim to the beach in front of his hotel, ruling that the dry-sand area of Oregon beaches belongs to the public. During his time on the Oregon Supreme Court, Judge Goodwin also served as a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, JAG Corps. 

Image at left: The new Justice Goodwin of the Oregon Supreme Court, March 1960. Courtesy of the Goodwin family, used with permission.

In late 1969, President Nixon appointed Judge Goodwin to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, to a seat opened when Judge John Kilkenny was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Judge Kilkenny assumed senior status after two years, and President Nixon then elevated Judge Goodwin to fill Judge Kilkenny’s seat on November 30, 1971.

Judge Goodwin kept his chambers here in Portland until Chief Judge Browning asked him to move to the court’s newly acquired courthouse in Pasadena, California, in the mid-1980s. In 1988, he became our chief judge. One year later, the Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damaged our beautiful headquarters courthouse in San Francisco. Judge Goodwin managed the move of our courthouse to temporary quarters in San Francisco and visited regularly. His calm and good humor helped keep up our morale; we did not miss a single scheduled case hearing.


— From a clerk

Judge Goodwin served as chief judge from 1988 to 1991, when he stepped down from what is usually a seven-year term so his good friend Judge Clifford Wallace could have a chance to be chief.  He assumed senior status at the same time but continued to carry a full caseload for many years after. 

Judge Goodwin’s best-known decision on the Ninth Circuit came in 2003 in Newdow v. U.S. Congress.  He ruled that the recitation in public schools of the “one nation under God” language added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Following the decision, Judge Goodwin received death threats and a 99-0 denunciation in the U.S. Senate.  The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling for lack of standing in 2004.

Image at right: Judge Goodwin c. 1991. Photo by Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall, his colleague on the court. Courtesy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Archives.

In 2012, Judge and Mrs. Goodwin moved full time to Sisters, Oregon, where he rode horses and raised sheep while continuing to maintain a reduced workload for the court. 

“He was as comfortable on horseback as he was in the courtroom,” according to U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan.

October 2005. Courtesy of the Goodwin family, used with permission.
Judge Goodwin with “Rocky.” Courtesy of the Goodwin family, used with permission.

Image at left: National Geographic Magazine, January 1969 issue, used with permission.

The story of this photo as told by Judge Goodwin to the court’s archivist in 2014:

In the spring of 1967, National Geographic sent photographer Bates Littlehales to photograph Oregon for an upcoming article.  On the plane from Washington, D.C., Littlehales met a friend of Judge Goodwin’s who recommended that he visit Aspen Valley Ranch near Prineville, owned by a mutual friend, as an example of the people and work of the vast high desert east of the Cascade Range.  Judge Goodwin happened to be helping out at a cow branding the day that Littlehales spent at the ranch.  Littlehales shot 35 rolls of film, but just this one was published (and 200 or so cows were branded).  Only after taking photos did Littlehales learn that this cowboy was also a justice on the Oregon Supreme Court. 

In his 51 years on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Goodwin witnessed its transformation.  Starting with a twelve-judge and relatively conservative court in the 1970s, he experienced its staggering growth and political re-orientation under President Carter.  The Ninth Circuit also chose to use a “limited en banc” court of eleven judges instead of the old en bancs consisting of all active judges. This required a judge to coordinate and monitor the complicated new system.  Judge Goodwin was our first en banc coordinator and held that post for twenty years.  

Judge Goodwin is one of only two judges in the nation to have served on a state and federal trial court as well as a state and federal appellate court.  He served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, with great distinction, for 51 years, and was a judge for 67 of his 99 years.  He was the oldest federal judge in the country, as well as the longest-serving current federal judge, when he left us on December 27, 2022.  He participated on court and national committees too numerous to list, but of particular note was his work integrating Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands when they were added to our court in 1960 and 1980 respectively. 

Judge Goodwin was loved by everyone on the court, and undoubtedly by everyone who got to know him.  His wit, kindness, and modesty were legendary.  He had an outstanding legal mind and a reputation for objectivity, and he wrote beautifully.  He was a judge’s judge, straight out of central casting, though he did not crave the limelight.  We will all miss him terribly. 

Celebration of 40 years on the federal bench and law clerk reunion, October 2010.


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