Judge Simon Bernstein, the eldest of 10 children, was born in Hartford on January 1, 1913. He graduated from Hartford Public High School at age 15, received a B.A. from Trinity College in 1933 and his L.L.B. in 1936 from Harvard Law School. After passing the bar, Bernstein practiced law, along with stints as a municipal judge in Bloomfield, until his appointment to the Connecticut Circuit Court in 1970.
One of few young men on the boards of Jewish organizations in the 1940’s, Bernstein served as Secretary of the Hartford chapter of ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) from 1940 – 1950. He was a Hartford Alderman in the mid-1940’s as Connecticut politics became more progressive under the influence of Franklin Roosevelt. He declined his party’s offer to run for the United States Congress in 1948, paving the way for Abraham Ribicoff.
In a successful career in law, politics and the judiciary, Bernstein’s most significant achievement was Article 8, Section 1 of the Connecticut Constitution ensuring free public education. Connecticut had a history of free public education, but this was not enshrined in the state constitution until Bernstein, inspired by the United States Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, proposed an amendment at the 1965 Connecticut Constitutional Convention. Democratic leader John Bailey rebuffed Bernstein’s attempts multiple times and only relented when the municipal judge threatened to hold a public press conference on the State House steps. As it was, Bernstein wrote the amendment in an hour to bring it to a vote before the Convention ended. It passed and is the basis for several rulings of the Connecticut Supreme Court, including the Sheff v. O’Neill decision. Listen to an oral history interview from 1971 where he recounts this history.
Judge Bernstein died on May 27, 2013 at age 100.