[Marxism] Judge Thomas P. Griesa, Who Ruled Against Westway, Dies at 87

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 26 19:42:47 MST 2017

(I was at the trial of the SWP vs. FBI when Stephen F. Cohen was called 
as a witness for the prosecution. Against the FBI's claim that they were 
dealing with a violent insurrectionist group, Cohen made the case for 
October 1917 being a mass-based, relatively peaceful transformation. 
Griesa commented that he found Cohen persuasive. In the end, he decided 
in favor of the SWP but only awarded $100,000. Jack Barnes made nearly 
20 times that amount when he sold his loft.)

NY Times, Dec. 26 2017
Judge Thomas P. Griesa, Who Ruled Against Westway, Dies at 87

Thomas P. Griesa, a federal judge whose far-reaching, environmentally 
based rulings helped kill the bitterly contested plan to build the 
Westway superhighway in Manhattan along the Hudson River but cleared the 
way for a huge redevelopment of Times Square, died on Sunday at his home 
in Manhattan. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by Edward A. Friedland, the court executive for 
the United States Court for the Southern District of New York in 
Manhattan, where Judge Griesa had worked for four decades. He did not 
give the cause.

Among the many cases presided over by Judge Griesa, who was appointed by 
President Richard M. Nixon, were two of the most ambitious development 
proposals in the history of New York City.

The Westway plan, adjudicated in the 1970s and ’80s, presented one of 
the fiercest clashes between environmental and development forces the 
city had ever seen. The Times Square redevelopment proposed to transform 
one of the most storied, it tattered, urban districts in the United States.

Westway was to run from the Battery, at the tip of Manhattan, to 42nd 
Street, replacing the West Side Highway, whose dilapidated state was 
underscored when a truck fell through an elevated section. With about 
half the road running through a tunnel, the projected cost was $2 
billion (about $5.7 billion in today’s money), and the federal 
government was to foot 90 percent of the bill.

Environmental groups as well as mass transit and other civic 
organizations mobilized to stop the road from being built. In lawsuits, 
they contended that Westway would be a harmful boondoggle for highway 
and construction interests. The tunneled portion was to be built through 
new landfill topped by parkland and commercial development.

The lawsuits asserted that Westway traffic would increase air pollution 
and harm the Hudson’s fish, disputing a federal finding that the 
landfill would not significantly affect marine life.

They further said that there had not been a thorough examination of an 
option to trade in the earmarked federal funds for a less expensive road 
combined with projects to improve mass transit.

Westway’s supporters, including the federal, state and local 
governments, said that the highway would actually help curb pollution by 
relieving traffic congestion, and that the fish study had been sound. 
The project would create jobs and needed waterfront parkland, they said, 
whereas trade-in benefits were uncertain.

In 1981, Judge Griesa (pronounced grih-SAY) dismissed all the 
plaintiffs’ objections except the one involving the fish study, which he 
said required a further hearing.

After that hearing’s conclusion, he ruled in July 1982, using unusually 
strong language, that federal and state agencies had “colluded” to mask 
key data about the potential harmful impact of the proposed landfill 
area on the Hudson’s striped bass, which he noted was one of the 
nation’s most popular and commercially lucrative fish.

He then barred the use of all federal money for Westway, effectively 
blocking it.

After a further study, completed in 1984, also forecast only minor harm 
to the striped bass, Judge Griesa refused to reverse his earlier ruling, 
saying that this study, too, had been deficient. He called an 
explanation of how its conclusion was reached “sheer fiction.”

“Two failures to justify the Westway landfill and federal funding for 
Westway under the applicable legal standards should bring the matter to 
an end,” he said. And it did.

After an appeals court upheld his findings, the state and city abandoned 
Westway to pursue a trade-in, under which a more modest surface 
boulevard was created.

Westway’s supporters said the striped bass had been “red herrings” that 
anti-development forces had fed the judge. The proposed highway’s 
opponents, however, said his ruling had been meticulous — a description 
often applied to Judge Griesa himself, a soft-spoken man who was also 
known to be firm from the bench.

Months later, the judge began presiding over the last legal challenge in 
the way of the multibillion-dollar project to redevelop Times Square and 
a nearby stretch of 42nd Street with high-rise office buildings, a hotel 
and the conversion of seedy movie houses to legitimate theaters and shops.

Numerous other suits, claiming wrongs including antitrust violations and 
the unlawful taking of private property, had been dismissed by other 
judges. The suit before Judge Griesa argued that the state and city had 
failed to adopt sufficient provisions to mitigate the increased 
pollution expected from the added traffic and commercial activity.

But the judge rejected the claim, finding acceptable “the commitment by 
the city to assure the necessary mitigation measures” through steps like 
revising no-standing regulations and traffic-light timing and providing 
drop-off space for taxis to reduce pollution-enhancing traffic congestion.

In another widely noted decision, Judge Griesa, after 13 years of 
litigation, ruled in 1986 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had 
violated the rights of the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist group, 
from the 1950s to the ‘70s by planting informants, surreptitiously 
entering party-related premises and engaging in other spying activities.

Where the Justice Department had listed the party as a subversive 
communist organization as far back as 1948, the F.B.I.’s actions had 
been directed “against entirely lawful and peaceful political 
activities” of the party, the judge found.

In 1978 he had held Attorney General Griffin Bell in contempt of court 
for refusing to turn over confidential F.B.I. informant files. An 
appeals court later overturned the contempt citation.

In 2010, Judge Griesa drew attention by ordering the irreverent online 
publication Gawker to remove images of parts of 12 pages from “America 
by Heart,” a forthcoming book by Sarah Palin, the former governor of 
Alaska and Republican vice-presidential candidate. The book’s publisher 
had charged copyright violation; Gawker, which has since shut down, 
called it permissible “fair use.”

Judge Griesa ruled that the posting exceeded fair use because it 
involved a “substantial portion of the book,” and that Gawker’s action 
would cause the publisher economic harm. Gawker agreed to remove the 

In another well-publicized case, which had dragged on for a decade and 
drawn deep interest in international securities markets, Judge Griesa, 
in decisions handed down in 2011 and 2012, ruled that Argentina had to 
pay the full value of billions of dollars worth of bonds to American 
hedge funds that had bought them at a deep discount when Argentina 
defaulted on its debts in 2001. The hedge funds had sued for payment at 
full value.

The Argentine government called the plaintiffs “vulture funds,” but 
Judge Griesa, in a ruling upheld by an appeals court, said that “after 
10 years of litigation, this is a just result.”

In a settlement, bondholders were said to have been paid more than $8 

Thomas Poole Griesa was born in Kansas City, Mo., on Oct. 11, 1930, to 
Charles and Stella Griesa, both fervent Republicans. His father was a 
bank vice president. After graduating in 1952 from Harvard, where he 
studied classical languages and ancient history, he served in the Coast 
Guard and earned a law degree at Stanford Law School.

He then returned east, to Washington, to be a litigator in the admiralty 
and shipping unit of the Justice Department. He joined the Manhattan law 
firm Davis Polk & Wardwell in 1961 and was made a partner in 1970.

President Nixon appointed him to the federal bench two years later. 
Judge Griesa served as chief judge from 1993 to 2000, when he gained 
senior status.

A harpsichordist and pianist, he often performed chamber music with 
friends. His wife, the former Christine Meyer, died in 2015. He leaves 
no immediate survivors.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

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