In Memory of Justice Roger O. DeBruler

Frank Sullivan, Jr.
Professor of Practice, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
Indiana Supreme Court (1993-2012)

Roger Owen DeBruler died on February 13, 2017, at the age of eighty-two. He was the longest serving justice on the Indiana Supreme Court during the twentieth century – the third longest serving justice ever – and his influence on Indiana jurisprudence is pervasive. I had the great good fortune to serve on the Court during the final three years of his tenure and am honored that the Indiana Law Review has asked me to prepare a tribute to him for publication.

My tribute discusses DeBruler as a transitional figure in Indiana judicial history who came to the Court during the era when its members were elected by partisan ballot and then continued to serve under the “merit selection” system approved by Constitutional Amendment in 1970.

I also sketch some of DeBruler’s monumental contribution to Indiana law, including that made through dissenting opinions. Several of his dissents were held to be correct by the U.S. Supreme Court; several more were later adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court itself after a new generation of justices were appointed. In no area of Indiana law did DeBruler have greater impact than on capital punishment. Unable in his early years on the Court to persuade his colleagues that capital punishment was unconstitutional, the procedural and substantive principles he espoused nevertheless came to comprise much of the canon of Indiana death penalty jurisprudence.

Finally, I try to convey DeBruler’s extraordinary intelligence, deep modesty, and profound humanity, including his long friendship with former Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Professor Kenneth Stroud, and his deep love for his wife Karen and the members of their family.

Roger DeBruler was a kind and gentle man who gave far more than he took. May he rest in peace. [Read entire tribute here]