Noonan is an accomplished jurist of the federal courts and philosopher, historian, theologian and a scholar of law. A graduate of Harvard University and recipient of a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America and LL.B. from Harvard Law School, he began his career as Special Staff to the U.S. National Security Council before joining a private law firm. In 1961 he joined the faculty at the University of Notre Dame Law School and in 1967 moved to Boalt Hall, the law school of the University of California, Berkeley.
As a scholar who incorporated law, philosophy, history and analysis of specific court decisions into his work, his writings on contraception, abortion, euthanasia, bribery, morality, and ethics impacted American elected officials and the Vatican. Noonan helped open a new line of thought about jurisprudence as a process of psychology, role play, value, and language akin to the process of literature. In October 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed Noonan to the newly created 27th seat of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where he served until 1996.
As a scholar-in-residence at the Kluge Center, Noonan investigated the teachings of the Catholic Church on four different kinds of conduct over a period of 2,000 years through letters, notarial acts, biographies, histories, and treatises: the lending of money at a profit; the buying, selling and keeping of human beings as property; the persecution of heretics as the duty of Christian rulers; and the rules on marriage and remarriage.
Publications (selected list):
- “A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching” (LC catalog record)
- “Bribes” (LC catalog record)
- “Contraception: A History of its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists” (LC catalog record)
- “Power to Dissolve: Lawyers and Marriages in the Courts of the Roman Curia” (LC catalog record)