PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Louis H. Pollak, a federal judge who as a young lawyer helped work on the pivotal school-desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, and later served as dean of two Ivy League law schools, has died. He was 89.
Pollak, a U.S. district judge, died Tuesday at his home in Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy neighborhood, Michael Kunz, clerk of federal district court, said Thursday.
“He was brilliant in issues of jurisprudence. However, that was tempered with a humility that is not often seen in persons of his standing in the legal profession,” Kunz said, noting that Pollak’s legal career extended across more than six decades, including a 1948-1949 stint as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge.
In the early 1950s, Pollak and William T. Coleman worked with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in writing briefs about school desegregation cases that culminated in the 1954 ruling that said state laws requiring separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.
“Judge Pollak influenced landmark court cases on issues from school desegregation to interracial marriage,” Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, said in a statement Thursday. “His personal crusade against bigotry defined his career and left a lasting mark on our nation. He leaves behind a rich legacy that will inspire future generations.”
Marshall later became a Supreme Court justice himself while Coleman went on to become transportation secretary in President Gerald Ford’s administration in the 1970s.
“Those were exhilarating, marvelous years,” Pollak told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a 2010 interview. “In retrospect, it seems inevitable” that school segregation would be outlawed. “But we sure didn’t know it at the time.”
Pollak was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and remained in that position until his death.
Born in New York City on Dec. 7, 1922, Pollak graduated from Harvard University in 1943 and Yale Law School in 1948. He was dean at Yale before moving to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he also was dean.
David Rudovsky, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, recalled Pollak both as a federal judge and law school dean.
“Aside from all that he accomplished, he did it while being fair and considerate and being a decent person,” Rudovsky said Thursday. “Those are the hallmarks of what he did.”
Pollak is survived by his wife, Katherine, and five daughters. Funeral plans have not yet been announced.
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