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Civil Rights and Race Relations in America and Their Impact on the Lives of African Americans
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Saturday, May 12, 2012
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is deeply saddened by the passing of Judge Louis H. Pollak, a legendary figure in LDF’s and this nation’s quest for racial justice and equality. Fighting for equality may have been part of Judge Pollak’s destiny because his father, Walter Pollak, argued the infamous Scottsboro case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Pollak’s contributions, however, were truly awe-inspiring. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1948, Louis Pollak clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge. It was then that he befriended William T. Coleman, who served as a law clerk to Justice Felix Frankfurter. Following their clerkships, Pollak and Coleman were among the small cohort of volunteer and cooperating lawyers who assisted Thurgood Marshall in planning and drafting the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe. Pollak later recalled that Brown was “the most important American governmental act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.”
After a brief period in government service, private practice at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison (where Coleman and Pollak briefly shared an office together), and a stint as a labor lawyer, Pollak distinguished himself in the legal academy. He was a professor of constitutional law and dean of Yale Law School and later, served as dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Judge Pollak’s unyielding commitment to civil rights and equal justice under law defined his career. Former LDF Director-Counsel Jack Greenberg once noted, “Louis Pollak wrote briefs, made arguments, gave advice hundreds and hundreds of times on issues of the highest level of constitutional sophistication. Innumerable LDF briefs presented concepts that he formulated.”
Pollak’s time at Yale was marked by his work on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1971, Pollak was elected vice-president of LDF’s Board of Directors, where he employed his significant talents and keen intellect to advance LDF’s mission. Through his long-standing collaborations with LDF, Pollak left an indelible mark in cases involving desegregation, sit-ins, freedom rides, voting rights, diversity in higher education, and advancing marriage equality. These successes continue to have resonance today. He was appointed a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1978, where he sat until his death. Judge Pollak was more than an accomplished scholar and passionate advocate; he was a true champion for justice. His tremendous achievements helped to move this nation closer to fulfilling its Constitutional promise. While his legacy as a litigator, judge, mentor, and academic will endure, he will truly be missed as one of LDF’s and indeed the nation’s great warriors for equality.