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December 7: The Civil Rights Judge

December 7, 2013
240px-Louis_PollakLouis Pollak, dean of the Yale and University of Pennsylvania law schools who simultaneously served as an adviser to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was born in Manhattan on this date in 1922 to progressive parents, his father an attorney for the defense in the “Scottsboro Boys” case. In 1965, Pollak convinced the Supreme Court to reverse the convictions of Freedom Riders who had been arrested (and brutally beaten) in the South. Earlier, he worked on the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case, although as an employee of the State Department he could not have his name listed on the legal briefs. President Jimmy Carter appointed Pollak to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1978. In criminal trials, the judge would often come down from the bench to shake hands with defendants, and in a drug case he once cleared the courtroom so a defendant could spend time with her child, from whom she’d been separated while imprisoned. “Lou Pollak wrote briefs, made arguments, gave advice hundreds and hundreds of times on issues of the highest level of constitutional sophistication,” said Jack Greenberg, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Judge Pollak died at 89 in 2012. “The decision in the Brown case, even though it was a decision about schools, became a precedent for, in the next half-dozen years, a series of Supreme Court decisions where they didn’t even have to write opinions, where they knocked out segregation in buses, in parks, in swimming pools and the whole array of public institutions that had been blanketed with Jim Crow for half a century.” —Louis Pollak