Of his experiences prior to teaching, his clerkship with Judge Wisdom seems to have been especially significant. Judge Wisdom, one of the heroes of the civil rights era in the South, provided Frickey with a model of judicial performance. In explaining why he considered Judge Wisdom to be unsurpassed by any of his peers, Frickey explained that a "judge is neither solely a scholar nor solely a politician," but rather a "complex combination of these and other elements," which may sometimes be in "great tension." In assessing a judge, "one must look not only for genius, but also for pragmatism and humanitarianism, not only for ideas, but also for results."
It is important to note two aspects of Frickey‘s assessment. First, judicial craft and advancing societal goals receive equal billing. Second, although Frickey admitted that these goals may be in "great tension," he did not seek to dissolve the tension by providing any formula for judicial decision making. As we will see, a notable feature of Frickey‘s scholarship was his willingness to live with—and attempt to mediate—fundamental tensions without entertaining the illusion that they can be resolved once and for all.