Remembering Joseph L. Tauro, Federal Judge Whose Landmark Rulings Protected the Developmentally Disabled

Hon. Joseph L. Tauro (Hon.’97), a BU Law adjunct professor for nearly 30 years, is remembered in the Boston Globe as the first federal judge to rule that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

Six months after being sworn in as a US District Court judge, Joseph L. Tauro hopped in his sports car and drove 90 miles west from his Boston courthouse to pay an unannounced visit to a state school for the developmentally disabled. A lawsuit had alleged unsanitary conditions, but he was unprepared for what he found.

“The horrors I saw were things I couldn’t imagine,” he later recalled of his May 1973 trip to Belchertown. The experience, he said, “was like getting punched in the stomach for nine straight hours.”

That visit led to the first landmark ruling by the jurist, who would go on to serve as chief judge of US District Court in Boston from 1992 to 1999.

Judge Tauro was 87 when he died of myelofibrosis Friday in his Marblehead home, and his passing was mourned throughout the judiciary.

“The bench has lost a terrific colleague, the bar has lost a remarkable mentor, and I have lost a truly great friend,” said Stephen Breyer, a US Supreme Court associate justice.

Read the full Boston Globe memorial