Speaker after speaker remarked on Browning's warm smile and ability to emphathize, regardless of whether he was talking to a United States senator or a homeless person on the streets of San Francisco's civic center.
"He was the judge who walked the neighborhood every day," said Judge Marsha Berzon, a former clerk of Browning's. "He was essentially friends with everyone on the street."
"He'd always come up to me and say, 'Friend Max!'" Senator Max Baucus of Browning's home state of Montana said in a videotaped statement. "And he meant it."
Browning -- known in his family as Jimmy, according to his nephew William Warden -- served on the Ninth Circuit for 50 years until his death in May at 93. At the San Francisco courthouse named in his honor, he was remembered Friday as a strong leader who invariably put the institution ahead of his personal ego, with the foresight to use information technology to keep the circuit unified.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said that, having served as chief of the U.S. Court of Claims before joining the Ninth Circuit in 1985, "I thought I knew a thing or two about judicial administration." After getting his first tour of how the Ninth Circuit operated under Browning, "I was floored." He remembered telling his wife that running the Court of Claims felt like flying a biplane while the Ninth Circuit looked like a 747.
Former Browning clerk Rowan Wilson, now a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, recalled the judge urging his colleauges to vote down a call for full en banc review of a case, even if they disagreed with the result, because respect for the limited, 11-judge en banc review was critical to survival of the court. The Ninth Circuit never has voted for full en banc review since Browning established the limited procedure. (See more remembrances from Wilson in a video here.)
Most of all, though, Browning's eulogizers spoke at a personal level. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, a former Browning clerk, said that when the judge worked late he would answer his clerks' phone calls and leave messages for them signed "Jim."
Berzon remarked on his willingness to hire her even though she was a woman and a mother. "That may not seem like a decision that's pioneering now, but it was in 1972," she said. (Still, Browning would tease her that the briefs she reviewed had "baby formula residue.")
Judge Sidney Thomas, a fellow Montanan, said that when he joined the court, Browning greeted him with a bear hug and the words, "Up with Montana!"
How could Browning maintain that positive attitude? Former clerk Wilson said it hit him recently when a colleague suggested that Browning and his wife of 70 years, Marie-Rose, thought of Wilson as the son they never had. "Judge Browing didn't think of just me as his son," Wilson said. "He loved every one of you that way as well."