On the Matter of Race, Law and the American Way: Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Continues His Appeal for Social Justice

By Hawkins, B. Denise | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 7, 1994 | Go to article overview

On the Matter of Race, Law and the American Way: Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Continues His Appeal for Social Justice


Hawkins, B. Denise, Black Issues in Higher Education


On the Matter of Race, Law and the American Way: Judge A. Leon. Higginbotham, Jr. Continues His Appeal for Social Justice

B. Denise Hawkins SENIOR WRITER

As a young man growing up in Trenton, NJ, former federal court Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. experienced first-hand the unequal application of the law and learned early that skin color can make the difference between acceptance and denial.

But it was not until he entered Purdue University at the age of 16 that he began trying the system by challenging the university's racially biased housing policy. He lost that case, but not his desire for justice.

The son of a domestic worker and a laborer who extolled virtues of education, Higginbotham has gone on to become one of the nation's leading legal scholars. In his award-winning book, In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, he reveals the motivation for his scholarship: "I became intensely eager to acquaint myself with...the lessons of racial history, to ascertain to what extent the law itself had created the mores of racial repression."

The seemingly hopeless and tenuous issue of race has been a constant for Higginbotham, but it has not left him bitter or even hopeless. His sense of outrage has instead been controlled and in several instances channeled into legal writing. One has only to read his celebrated "An Open Letter to Clarence Thomas From a Federal Judicial Colleague," to get a glimpse of his style.

Last year, he stepped down from the bench as senior circuit court judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after 29 years. He was the longest serving active federal judge.

He is currently of counsel to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

At a time when many people his age are enjoying their retirement, Higginbotham is returning to the classroom -- Harvard -- as a full professor, after having taught and lectured at some of the nation's most prestigious institutions -- Yale, Stanford, New York University, the University of Michigan, the University of Hawaii, the University of Pennsylvania as well as Harvard University.

While you were on the bench, you maintained a hectic schedule that included legal writing and teaching. Why, at this stage in your career, have you chosen to return to the classroom full-time?

I enjoy intellectual inquiries that reveal why certain complex problems exist, and their origin. The academic community gives one the rare luxury for intense inquiry and insightful reflection on serious problems. If done thoughtfully, one can pursue and articulate long-term solutions that will make a systematic difference. I left the bench and joined academia because I believe that, in the long run, I will be able to focus more on identifying and implementing viable solutions.

More important, all law students should understand the history of the American legal process for at least three centuries. Without historical insight, it becomes difficult to evaluate the alternatives that the legal process could have or should have. Secondly, I would want them to have a sense of caring and mission to aid the downtrodden and the powerless. They must seek to implement Martin Luther King, Jr's statement that we must "have the temerity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their body, education for the minds, and dignity for their spirits." Third, they should always pursue excellence and maintain ethical conduct.

You have been contemplating teaching at Harvard, where your contemporary Derrick Bell left his tenured position to protest the absence of tenured Black women on the law faculty. Did you consider teaching at a historically Black law school?

I will not be teaching primarily at Harvard Law School. My full professorship will be at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, but every third semester, I will teach one course at the law school. I think there is a partial distortion of information about Harvard Law School.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

On the Matter of Race, Law and the American Way: Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Continues His Appeal for Social Justice
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.