Danny J. Boggs, ’68, on Learning how to Distill Abstract Intellectual Ideas into Clear, Concise Concepts

My Chicago Law Moment is a series highlighting the Law School ideas, experiences, and approaches that have impacted our students and alumni. Video produced by Will Anderson.

Judge Danny Boggs, ’68, attended law school at the height of the Vietnam War draft. When questions arose about whether the Law School should send student rankings to the Selective Service System—the government agency that maintains information on those subject to military conscription—University President Edward H. Levi formed a committee including Boggs, along with other Law School students and faculty, to help answer them. Boggs’s experience on that committee would stay with him as he worked in various government positions, and later when he became a federal judge.

“There was a big issue about sending students rankings to the Selective Service,” said Boggs, who is currently a Senior United States Circuit Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. “So President Levi, who had been law dean, set up a committee that was headed by Allison Dunham, who was my property law professor.”

The committee was tasked with determining whether students could withhold information about their rankings, how those rankings were calculated, and who really owned each student’s grades—questions that could have a real impact on students at the Law School. It was one of Boggs’s first experiences discussing, organizing, and distilling abstract intellectual concepts into concise recommendations, he said. 

“Dunham just organized the project the way later I would learn, in effect, a big partner would organize something,” Boggs said. “How do we put it together to get a coherent, sensible product that we can then send on to the president? I'd organized little things, but not intellectual things. And it was just watching a very smart, organized law professor do that that was something that I've kept in mind a great deal.”

Before his judgeship, Boggs worked in a number of government roles, assisting governors, senators, and United States presidents. When he worked with the chairman of the Federal Power Commission on a rule about gas pipelines, Boggs said, he drew from his experience as a member of that Law School committee on student rankings.

“You had commissioners who had their interests, and you had a staff, you had an economics department, and a physical pipeline department,” Boggs said. “And so again, those tasks I had were in some way relevant to that—how do you assemble ideas and analyze them and then pass them up to decision makers?”

It has also applied in his career as a judge, Boggs added.

“Then I became a judge, so then I was the decision maker to some degree. Although as an appellate judge, again, it's somewhat the same thing,” he said. “You're generally trying to, if you have a view, persuade at least one of your colleagues.”