Robert W. Sweet

Robert Workman Sweet
Senior Judge of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Assumed office
March 1, 1991
Judge of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
April 28, 1978  March 1, 1991
Nominated by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Inzer B. Wyatt
Succeeded by Harold Baer Jr.
Personal details
Born (1922-10-15) October 15, 1922[1]
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Yale University
Yale Law School

Robert Workman Sweet (born October 15, 1922) is an American jurist, and currently a senior United States federal judge serving on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Early life and career

Sweet attended Yale University and obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree from Yale Law School in 1948. From 1953 to 1955, he was an Assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. He served as the deputy mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1969,[2] and then spent several years as a lawyer in private practice with the global New York law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

District judge

Sweet was appointed to the federal court for the Southern District of New York by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed in 1978. He semi-retired into senior status in 1991.[2] One of Sweet's law clerks was Eliot Spitzer, who later became Governor of New York.[3]

Consumers' lawsuit against McDonald's

One controversial case he decided was Pelman v McDonald's Corp., a case involving a group of teenagers who sued McDonald's fast food chain, claiming the food sold by McDonald's caused their obesity. Sweet dismissed the case in 2003 and said "it is not the place of the law to protect them against their own excesses".[4] However, the plaintiffs appealed to United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and in 2005 the circuit court vacated the district court's dismissal and reinstated some of the claims as incorrectly dismissed.[5] (Ultimately, the lawsuit failed when it was denied class-action status in 2010.)

New York Times and Judith Miller controversy

In 2005, in New York Times v. Gonzales, Sweet decided that The New York Times can maintain the confidentiality of its sources, refusing to dismiss Times' suit against Department of Justice in the Judith Miller controversy. However, later the Second Circuit reversed his decision and allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to access phone records of New York Times journalists.[6]

Opposition to War on Drugs

Sweet has expressed strong opposition to the United States War on Drugs, saying the drug war is "expensive, ineffective and harmful" and that only "gangs and cartels benefit from current drug laws".[7] In an interview with PBS, he said that the mandatory minimum sentence for drug offenses violates due process and separation of powers.[8] With co-author Edward A. Harris he contributed a chapter[9] to Jefferson Fish's book How to Legalize Drugs.

Sweet is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and serves on its advisory board.

Gene patents

On March 29, 2010, in Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. United States Patent and Trademark Office, et al., Sweet ruled that Myriad Genetics' patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes linked to breast cancer, were invalid for the reason that, in Sweet's opinion, genes do not constitute patentable subject matter. His decision was 156 pages long.[10][11]


  1. Second Circuit redbook, 1984, pg. 147. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  2. 1 2 Sweet, Robert Workman Archived September 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. "New York Governor official biography". Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  4. Court dismisses McDonald's obesity case BBC News
  5. "Circuit Court allows some claims and remands – Pelman v. McDonald's Corporation". Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  6. Court Hands New York Times a Setback in Miller Case Joseph Goldstein
  7. Abolition And Reform Robert W. Sweet
  8. Interview: Robert Sweet PBS
  9. Sweet, R. W. & Harris E. A. (1998). Moral and Constitutional considerations in support of the decriminalization of drugs. In J. M. Fish (Ed.), How to legalize drugs (pp. 430–484). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
  10. Begley, Sharon (March 29, 2010). "In Surprise Ruling, Court Declares Two Gene Patents Invalid". Newsweek. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  11. Schwartz, John & Pollack, Andrew (March 29, 2010). "Judge Invalidates Human Gene Patent". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Inzer B. Wyatt
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Harold Baer Jr.
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