Raymond J. Pettine Papers
Providence, Senior Judge, U. S. District Court, District of R.I.
Size: 2.25 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 146
Processed by: Robin Flynn, December 1997
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Raymond J. Pettine, born in Providence in 1912, knew from childhood that he wanted to be involved in law as a profession; at the age of about 10, he wrote a letter to the Harvard University law school seeking advice on how to become a lawyer. Accordingly, he received his law degrees from Boston University School of Law in 1937 and 1938, and was admitted to practice in Rhode Island in 1941. After several years in the U.S. Army (1941-1946), Pettine held a solo law practice in Providence from 1946 to 1948 and served as a special prosecutor for the R.I. Attorney General's office. From 1948 to 1961, he was Assistant Attorney General for R.I.; in 1961, he became U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island. He remained in that office until 1966, when he was appointed U.S. District Court Judge by President Lyndon Johnson. Pettine was named Chief Judge of that court in 1971, and Senior Judge in 1982 (at the age of 70).
During his long career as a federal judge - over 30 years- Pettine gained the reputation as a strong defender of the U.S. Constitution. His interpretations of the rights granted in that document, however, led to public controversy on several occasions. Consequentially, Pettine gained the additional reputation for a willingness to adhere to his own code of ethics despite the risk of disapproval from the public and/or state and local governments. Several of his rulings, on emotional issues such as separation of church and state (the "Pawtucket creche" case, 1981), homosexual rights, women's rights, abortion, prison reform (conditions at the Adult Correctional Institution), and busing, earned him attention on the national level in the press, the federal government, and the United States Supreme Court. In 1979, he was selected a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States by unanimous vote of the judges of the First Circuit.
Pettine was honored many times by professional colleagues for devotion to his profession. Additionally, he received honorary degrees from several colleges, and served as lecturer and instructor at Boston University School of Law, New York University School of Law, and the Judge Advocate General's Course. At the 25th anniversary of his judgeship in 1991, Pettine was still carrying a full case load. Sometime after that he made the transition to semi-retirement, and fully retired in 1997 at the age of 85.
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Scope and content:
The collection is comprised of three large scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings and
correspondence ranging from the years 1959 through 1991; one small photo album containing photos and letters, mostly pertaining to Pettine's portrait unveiling in 1989; loose correspondence; ephemera; and various award, professional, and scholarly certificates. The bulk of the collection deals with Judge Pettine's career; some material addresses personal events like birthdays and tributes. Several prominent national figures are represented in the correspondence; for instance, U.S. Atty. General Robert Kennedy, U.S. Deputy Atty. General Ramsey Clark, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, and Supreme Court Justices Warren Burger and William J. Brennan. Noteworthy Rhode Islanders represented include Senators Claiborne Pell and John O. Pastore, and State Police Superintendent Walter Stone.
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The three large scrapbooks were given by Judge Pettine to the Society in June, 1992. He donated the remaining papers in the collection in August, 1997. The texts of several award plaques awarded to Pettine, and retained by his family, have been added at the end of this finding aid and a copy placed in Box 2 of the papers.
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Many of the award certificates arrived at the Society in frames; they were removed from the frames and placed in archival folders. Correspondence that arrived unbound was put into chronological order and housed in archival folders. The materials in the scrapbooks were left intact.
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No. 1, 1959-1966.
No. 2, 1966-1979.
No. 3, 1980-1991.
No. 4, 1992-May, 1997.
Photo album: photos, correspondence, and memoirs for Judge Pettine's portrait ceremony, 1989.
Box 1 of 2. (Correspondence)
Folder 1. Recommendations for appointment to federal bench, 3/3/1966-5/11/1966.
Folder 2. Congratulations on appt. to federal bench, 6/13/1966-6/30/1966.
Folder 3. Ditto, 7/1/1966-7/9/1966.
Folder 4. Ditto, 7/11/1966-9/7/1966 and undated.
Folders 5 and 6. Undated cards and notes: mostly congratulations on appt. to federal bench.
Folder 7. General, 1961-1987.
Box 2 of 2 (oversize).
Award, professional, and scholarly certificates.
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Adult Correctional Institution, Cranston, R. I.
Brennan, William J. (U.S. Supreme Court Justice) (1906-?)
Burger, Warren (U.S. Supreme Court Justice) (1907-?)
Clark, Ramsey (Deputy U.S. Atty. Gen.)
Hoover, J. Edgar (Director, FBI) (
Humphrey, Hubert (1911-1978)
Katzenbach, Nicholas (U.S. Atty. Gen.)
Kennedy, Robert (U.S. Atty. Gen.) (1925-1968)
Pastore, John O. (U.S. Senator)
Pell, Claiborne (U.S. Senator)
Religion and state
Stone, Walter E. (-1997)
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