Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Louis H. Pollak

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Louis H. Pollak

Article excerpt

7 december 1922 · 8 may 2012

The day after I was sworn in as a federal judge, Judge Louis Pollak came to visit, tapping on an open door in my new chambers, saying, "May I come in?" He stayed nearly the entire morning. I was enthralled. That was nearly thirty years ago and the commencement (for me) of an extraordinary friendship.

When deciding cases, judges can speak only with other judges, and so for me, and for many other judges, too, Lou was adviser, counselor and sagacious mentor.

Lou Pollak profoundly and joyfully touched many lives. These vignettes from colleagues-lawyers, academics, and judges-give a telling glimpse of this magnificent person.


U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Third Circuit

IF THERE IS ANYONE BETTER than Lou Pollak was at teaching by doing, whether lessons for law or lessons for life, I have not met that person. To be sure, the subtlety and suppleness of his mind-and his delight in the fabric of human experience-were such that learning lessons for law sometimes required patience. There was no wait, however, to receive lessons for life, if only one could learn them. The opportunity to know, let alone to work with, a person so deeply considerate of others, so thoroughly indifferent to hierarchy, and so (quietly) passionate about equal opportunity, was a priceless gift.

Although Lou had helped to hire me as the University of Pennsylvania's first in-house general counsel, we did not get to know each other well until we worked on the amicus curiae brief that Penn and a number of other universities filed to assist the Supreme Court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The idea that there should be such a brief was Lou's. Fearful that the Court's decision in a case involving admission to a public university might deprive private universities of the freedom to take into account personal characteristics they reasonably deemed important to their educational missions, he took the initiative to persuade me and Penn's president, Martin Meyerson, that Penn should take the lead.

Once we agreed and had put together the group of universities and determined who would be speaking for them, the fun began. The issues were difficult, important, and at times contentious. Lou's contributions to the brief as one of its two primary authors included not just the fruits of deep knowledge of the Constitution, of the struggle for racial equality, and of the role of universities in American society. He had the capacity to win an argument without seeming to argue-deftly employing humor-which made internal divisions about strategy or language much easier to resolve. Thus, when we were searching for language that would describe the freedom we sought to preserve and not be inflammatory, the general counsel of another university suggested the formula used in an earlier brief, "according favorable weight to minority status." One of the two primary authors responded, "That's fine so long as we drop a footnote."1 The author in question was Al Rosenthal of Columbia, but the technique was as much Lou's as Al's.

Lou's sweet reason was not to be confused with a faint heart, as those who sought to prevent the University of Pennsylvania from filing the brief learned at a meeting of the University Council at which a draft was discussed. Calmly but forcefully rebutting the opponents' arguments, Lou's advocacy won the day. The brief was filed, and it featured prominently in Justice Powell's pivotal opinion in Bakke. In giving Lou some of the credit for helping tens of thousands of young people to benefit from the institutional freedom thus preserved, let us also remember those whose lives he changed simply by the power of example.


David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice

University of Pennsylvania Law School

FORSAN ET HAEC OLIM MEMINISSE JUVABIT: Virgil's Aeneid begins with those words-"Someday, perhaps, this too will seem worth remembering. …

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