- A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.
name = Aloyisus Leon Higginbotham
imagesize = 275px
caption = Judge Higginbotham with President Clinton at a Medal of Freedom ceremony on September 29, 1995
Judgeof the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
termstart = 1977
predecessor = Francis Lund Van Dusen
Judgeof United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
termstart2 = 1964
termend2 = 1977
predecessor2 = J. Cullen Ganey
successor2 = Louis Pollak
birthdate = birth date|mf=yes|1928|2|25
birthplace = Ewing,
deathdate = death date and age|mf=yes|1998|12|14|1928|2|25
Aloyisus Leon Higginbotham, Jr. (February 25, 1928 - December 14, 1998) was a prominent
African Americancivil rights advocate, author, and federal appeals court judge. Higginbotham was the seventh African American Article III judge appointed in the United States, and the first African American judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. [ [http://www.jtbf.org/clientuploads/docs/1153327002_710662.pdf African American Federal Judges by Commission Date] ] He served as Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals from 1990 to 1991.Federal Judicial Center Biography, available at http://www.fjc.gov/servlet/GetInfo?jid=1039] He used the name "Leon" informally.
Higginbotham was born on February 25, 1928 in Ewing, a suburb of
Trenton, New Jersey.In Memoriam: A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.; 1928-1998, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, January 21, 1999] Interview with The Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., for the Historical Society of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, at pg. 4, ln. 14-15] His mother, Emma Lee Higginbotham, was a maid, and his father, Aloyisus Leon Higginbotham, Sr., was a factory worker. Higginbotham was raised in a largely African American neighborhood, and attended a segregated grammar school.pg. 4, ln. 14-15]
Higginbotham attended Lincoln School, a segregated high school in Trenton.pg. 5, ln. 12-13] Prior to Higginbotham, no black student had been put on the academic track (which was a significant step towards attending college), because
Latin, a requirement for the program, was not taught at the black elementary schools.Black Judge's Success Story Begins in Cold Attic, Neil Lewis, The New York Times, July 19, 1991] Higginbotham's mother convinced the principal at the junior high school to enroll him in a second-year Latin course, even though he had never studied first year Latin. To ensure that he was able to pass the required classes, the junior high Latin teacher offered to tutor him at her home during the summer.pg. 7, ln 1-8] Higginbotham's family was of modest economic means, so he worked while attending school, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and working as a bus boy at the Stacy Trent hotel.pg. 8 ln. 18-25, pg. 9, ln. 17-24] While in high school, Higginbotham manipulated his birth certificate in order to get working papers at 15, a year before the law allowed, so that he could work in a pottery factory shoveling clay.pg. 10, ln. 15-24]
At 16 Higginbotham enrolled in
Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana. He chose Purdue because it admitted black students; was cheaper, at that time, than Rutgers University; and offered tuitiondiscounts for good academic performance.pg. 11, 25-26] Higginbotham was also interested in Purdue because he wanted to be an engineer, and Purdue was known as an engineering school.Transcript, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Oral History Interview I, 10/7/76, by Joe B. Frantz, Internet Copy, LBJ Library]
Higginbotham entered Purdue as a freshman in 1944. At the time, the student body was composed of approximately 6,000 white students, and 12 black students. Although eligible for admission, black students were not permitted to live in the dormitories. Higginbotham and the other 11 black students were placed in a building called International House, which was the only building that blacks could live in West Lafayette.pg. 12, ln. 7-10] The students slept in the attic, which was unheated.pg. 12, ln 12.] Higginbotham sought a meeting with the University President, Edward C. Elliott, to ask permission for the students to sleep in a section of one of the heated dormitories. Elliot's response was purportedly " [t] he law doesn't require us to put you in those dormitories. The law doesn't even require us to let you in. You take it or leave it."pg. 13, ln. 13-16] Higginbotham would later identify this encounter, and an incident where he was traveling with the Purdue debate team, but unable to stay in a hotel with the rest of the members, as the events that caused him to pursue a career in the law, saying:
Higginbotham transferred to
Antioch Collegein Yellow Springs, Ohioin 1945.pg. 16, ln. 10-11] On the day that Higginbotham entered Antioch, one other black student was also admitted, Coretta Scott, who would later become Coretta Scott King after marrying Martin Luther King, Jr.. At Antioch, Higginbotham served as the head of the college chapter of the NAACP.In Memoriam, Nathaniel R. Jones, 112 Harvard Law Review 1801, 1818] During a conference of Ohio State collegiate NAACP chapters, Higginbotham successfully advocated for legislation to lower the voting age to 18. Higginbotham earned his B.A. in 1949.
In the fall of 1949 Higginbotham entered
Yale Law School. As he had in grade school, he worked, this time as a butcher, to help support himself while at Yale.pg. 15-23] He was a member of the moot courtteam and the Barrister's Union (a mock trial organization).pg. 22-23, ln. 28-29, 1] Higginbotham advanced to the finals of the first year moot court competition.pg. 25-26, ln. 25-29, 1-8] He argued in front of a panel that included Justice Clark of the Supreme Court of the United States, and John W. Davis, who would later argue against Thurgood Marshallon behalf of the State of South Carolinain Brown v. Board of Education.pg. 25-26, ln. 25-29, 1-8] In 1951, Higginbotham competed on a moot court team with Richard N. Gardner, who would later be the United States Ambassador to Spainand the United States Ambassador to Italy. Higginbotham's team argued against a team from Temple University Law School, against his future law partner and judicial colleague, Clifford Scott Green.
As a first year student, Higginbotham worked as a research assistant to a professor, who arranged for him to attend the oral arguments in
Sweatt v. Painter, which dealt with the admission of blacks to the University of Texas.pg. 31, ln. 14-20] Thurgood Marshallargued the case on behalf of Herman Sweatt, who had been denied admission to the University's Law School.Breaking Thurgood Marshall's promise - declining minority enrollment in higher education, A. Leon Higginbotham, Black Issues in Higher Education, Feb 5, 1998] Higginbotham would later describe the experience of seeing Marshall arguing, writing " [w] ith controlled outrage, Marshall eloquently asserted the constitutional promise of equality for Sweatt, for all African Americans and, it seemed, for me personally." When the Supreme Court ruled in Sweatt's favor, Higginbotham later wrote that felt that he had "witnessed the birth of racial justice in the Supreme court." Higginbotham received his LL.B. from Yale in 1952. In 1969, as the first black to become a trustee of Yale, he advocated opening the university to women.American Bar Association profile of Higginbotham, as published for Black History Month, 2001]
After graduation, Higginbotham initially sought employment with law firms in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, however, he was unable to find work at any of the major firms as a result of his race.pg. 34-35] He began his career as a
law clerkfor Judge Curtis Bok of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. In 1953 he was hired by then District Attorney Richardson Dilworthas an assistant district attorney.pg. 40, ln. 7] Prior to Dilworth's arrival, no black lawyer had ever argued on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the Courts of Common Pleas.pg.40, ln. 24-27] Higginbotham was given the opportunity to argue both in front of the Court of Common Pleas, and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.pg. 42, ln. 6-17]
In 1954 Higginbotham went into private practice as a member of the first African American law firm in Philadelphia, "Norris, Schmidt, Green, Harris, and Higginbotham". In addition to Higginbotham, three of the other named partners went on to become judges; Harvey Schmidt and Doris Harris would later serve as judges on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and
Clifford Scott Greenwas appointed to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.pg. 38, ln. 11-17] Higginbotham stayed in private practice until 1962. While at the firm, Higginbotham practiced criminal defense and personal injury law.pg. 44, ln. 4-10] From 1960 to 1962 he was President of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP. [A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., Federal Judge, Is Dead at 70. The New York Times, December 15, 1998]
While still in private practice, Higginbotham simultaneously served in several government positions; he was a special Deputy State Attorney General from 1956 to 1962, a special hearing officer for conscientious objections for the United States Department of Justice from 1960 to 1962, and a Commissioner on the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission from 1961 to 1962.
In 1960 Higginbotham, as a delegate at the National NAACP convention, supported
Hubert Humphreyover John F. Kennedyfor the organization's endorsement for President.pg. 48, ln 23] Nevertheless, Kennedy appointed Higginbotham to be a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commissionin 1962, the first African American appointed as a commissioner on any regulatory commission.pg. 18, ln 3-7] Justice White administered the oath of office.pg. 17, ln 28] Higginbotham ultimately became a strong supporter of President Kennedy, and began attending functions on behalf of the administration.pg. 53, ln 17-18] He was also a guest at White House functions, including a state dinner for the King and Queen of Afghanistan that took place several weeks before Kennedy's assassination. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had come to know Higginbotham through his work on the FTC,pg 54, ln 21-29] recommended that President Kennedy nominate him to be a judge on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which Kennedy did in 1963.pg 57, ln. 3-7]
Higginbotham's nomination was held up by
MississippiSenator James Eastland, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committeeand a committed segregationist. Eastland delayed the nomination long enough so that, despite being passed by a subcommittee, Higginbotham's nomination lapsed following the death of President Kennedy, and the beginning of a new congressional term. He was ultimately appointed to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President Lyndon Johnsonas a recess appointmenton January 6, 1964, and was confirmed by the Senate later that year. At the time of his appointment, he was 35 years old. Higginbotham became a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, of Yale University, and of Thomas Jefferson University.Minutes of Meeting of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, February 19, 1999, at the University of Pennsylvania Faculty Club]
Adviser to President Johnson
Following his appointment to the District Court, Higginbotham developed a relationship with President Johnson, attending various White House functions and conferences in the mid-1960s. The day after
Martin Luther Kingwas assassinated, Higginbotham was called to the White Houseto take part in a series of meetings to advise the President on how to respond to King's death. Other notable figures at the meeting were Vice President Humphrey, Justice Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Andrew Brimmer, Clarence Mitchell, Clifford Alexander, and Bayard Rustin. Higginbotham stayed the night at the White House, attended a service at the Washington National Cathedral, and continued to advise the President into the next days.
In 1967 Higginbotham arraigned for President Johnson to visit
North Philadelphia, to tour a community revitalization effort. Higginbotham would later describe Johnson's reaction to seeing the efforts of a small community to restore a dilapidated police station, saying "I think he was elated, absolutely exhilarated, because he saw results. It wasn't phony, and it wasn't something on which an extraordinary amount money had been spent." A year later, following the assassination of Robert Kennedy, President Johnson called on Higginbotham again, appointing him as a member of the newly created Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. In 1968 he served as Vice Chairman of President Johnson's Kerner Commission. [Kerner Commission Report, available at http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/1119/Kerner_Commission_report_finished]
Higginbotham attended the opening of Johnson's Presidential library, where Johnson referred to Higginbotham as "one of my closest advisers, sound, reliable, responsible." Higginbotham would later say that he was thankful for the comment, but "had the impression that there were probably a few hundred other people there who got that accolade." Higginbotham met with Johnson two weeks before his death in 1973, along with then newly elected Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, to discuss Jordan's career in the House.
Higginbotham spent 13 years as a District Court judge. His chambers were at the Federal Courthouse at 9th and Market Streets, in Philadelphia (the building was later named in honor of
Robert N.C. Nix, Sr., the first African American member of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation).pg. 63, ln. 11-18] As a new judge, Higginbotham still encountered racism. On his first day on the district court, he parked his car in the area reserved for judges, and was yelled at by a guard "Hey, boy!"pg. 64, ln. 6] Higginbotham asked whether the guard was speaking to him, and the guard responded that only judges were permitted to park in the area.pg. 64, ln. 12-15] Higginbotham responded by saying "I understand, and that's why I parked there."pg. 64, ln. 12-15] The guard said "Oh, you're Judge Higginbotham. Welcome to the Court."pg. 64, ln. 12-15] Higginbotham would later remember the incident as "typical of a lot of things which have happened to both minorities and to women."pg. 64, ln. 18-20]
Higginbotham did not experience any such behavior from his fellow judges on the district court, although, as the youngest person ever appointed to the Eastern District (Higginbotham was younger than some of his colleagues childrenpg. 66, ln. 6] ), he would later recall that "the most difficult problem [in terms of human relations] was the phenomenon of age."pg. 65, ln. 27-29] Higginbotham's first law clerk was Eleanor Holmes, who would later become Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Delegate to the
United States House of Representativesfrom the District of Columbia.pg. 64, ln. 24-26]
In 1977 President Carter elevated Higginbotham to the
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Higginbotham's elevation coincided with the opening of a new federal courthouse in Philadelphia, so his chambers moved from the Nix building to what is now called the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse at 6th and Market. Higginbotham would later describe his judicial philosophy on the appellate bench as being in line with Justice Cardozo, rejecting the strict constructionist concept, in favor of "an evolutionary concept in terms of what is fair and just in a society."pg. 86, ln. 3-6] He attacked strict constructionists as being inconsistent, "want [ing] an original intent for what are their conservative positions, and an evolutionary [position] , in order to protect their conservative positions..."pg. 87, ln. 20-25] He was Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals from 1990 to 1991, and assumed senior statusin 1991. He retired from the bench in 1993.
After leaving the bench, Higginbotham joined the firm of
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and accepted a position at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Governmentas a professor. He held both positions for the remainder of his life.
He served as counsel to the
Congressional Black Caucusin a series of voting rights cases before the Supreme Court. In 1996, Higginbotham served as an adviser to Texacoon human resourcesand diversity matters. [Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. To Advise Texaco On Diversity Matters, Jet Magazine, December 16, 1996]
In 1991, Judge Higginbotham wrote an "An open letter to Justice Clarence Thomas from a federal judicial colleague," published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. In his letter, Judge Higginbotham expressed his "concern and sorrow that Justice Thomas would turn his back on a century of [racial] struggle." [Colin S. Diver, A Tribute, available at http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0399/higginbotham.html ]
Work in South Africa
Higginbotham was involved in the transition to open democratic elections in South Africa. He founded the South Africa Free Election (SAFE) Fund, raising several million dollars to support fair elections in South Africa, and served as one of the international mediators of the first inter-racial elections in South Africa in 1994.Judge Higginbotham to be honored by White House, Robin Leary, The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 15, 1995] Statement on the Death of A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., President Clinton, The White House, December 15, 1998] After the conclusion of the election, he helped South Africa's newly elected government draft a new constitution.
Nelson Mandelawould later say "Judge Higginbotham ['s] work and the example he set made a critical contribution to the course of the rule of law in the United States and a difference in the lives of African Americans, and indeed the lives of all Americans. But his influence also crossed borders and inspired many who fought for freedom and equality in other countries.... Judge Higginbotham played an important role in [South Africa's] first democratic elections, support the development of public interest law work in South Africa and helped to create broader opportunities for black South African lawyers." [In Memoriam, 112 Harvard Law Review 1801, 1810]
Testimony at Clinton impeachment hearings
On December 1, 1998, two weeks before his death, Higginbotham gave testimony before the House Judiciary Committee concerning the issue of what constituted an impeachable offense, as part of the hearings on President Clinton's impeachment.Transcript of Higginbotham's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, available at http://judiciary.house.gov/judiciary/101306.htm] Higginbotham argued that Clinton's conduct did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Higginbotham offered the a hypothetical scenario of a person driving his car at a speed of convert|55|mi|km-per-hour in a convert|50|mi|km|sing=on-per-hour speed zone, and then falsely testifying under oath that he was only driving convert|49|mi|km-per-hour. Higginbotham then said,
Higginbotham concluded his testimony, writing, "I submit that your individual vote will have a profound impact on the entire history and future of the United States of America. I would remind you once again of the incisive words of Luther Standing Bear: 'Thought comes before speech.' I pray that this Committee will, in a non-partisan way, rise to its highest potential of statesmanship by giving this issue its calm and insightful thought before speaking and casting a vote that will affect America's rendezvous with destiny."
After Higginbotham's death, Clinton said "I shall "never" forget how he spoke up for me."
Higginbotham died on December 14, 1998 in
Boston, Massachusetts, after suffering from a series of strokes. President Clinton described him as "one of our nation's most passionate and steadfast advocates for civil rights." Jesse Jacksonsaid of Higginbotham, " [w] hat Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houstonwere to the first half of this century, Judge Higginbotham was to the second half."Judge A. Leon Higginbotham:A Lawyer's Lawyer, Judge's Judge and Advocate's Advocate Passes, Los Angeles Sentinel, December 30, 1998] Kweisi Mfumesaid " [t] he world has lost one of its finest, most pre-eminent jurists of our times. His work is a reflection of both his deep passion for civil rights and his legendary pursuit of justice and equality for all Americans."
Awards and Honors
President Clinton awarded him the
Presidential Medal of Freedomin 1995. In 1996, the NAACP award him its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law named its annual A. Leon Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award after Judge Higgenbotham. [ [http://www.lawyerscomm.org/2005website/features/higginbottam06/higgawarddin.html Lawyers Committee Website on the Higginbotham Award] ] Higginbotham was award honorary degrees from 62 different universities. [Transcript of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/pmtext120198.htm]
Books by Higginbotham
* In the Matter of Color: The Colonial Period (1978) ISBN 0-19-502745-0
* Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process (1996) ISBN 0-19-512288-7
###@@@KEY@@@###succession box| title=Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit| before= John Joseph Gibbons | after=
Dolores Sloviter| years=1990-1991|
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
Look at other dictionaries:
Leon Litwack — Leon F. Litwack is an American historian and professor of history at the University of California Berkeley. He is the 1980 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history for his book Been In the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. [… … Wikipedia
Higginbotham, A Leon, Jr. — ▪ 1999 American lawyer, judge, and scholar whose nearly 30 years as an influential federal judge included service as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1989 to 1993; referring to himself as a survivor of… … Universalium
Clifford Scott Green — Official Portrait of Judge Green Judge of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania In office 1971–2007 … Wikipedia
Charles Ogletree — Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Born December 31, 1952 (1952 12 31) (age 58) Merced, California Nationality … Wikipedia
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit — (3d Cir.) Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Appeals from … Wikipedia
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: The Trial of O. J. Simpson (1995) — ▪ Primary Source Race was a central theme in two of the most publicized events of 1995: the trial of O. J. Simpson and the Million Man March. Simpson, a legendary former National Football League running back, was accused of murdering his ex … Universalium
Shelley v. Kraemer — SCOTUSCase Litigants=Shelley v. Kraemer ArgueDate=January 15 ArgueYear=1948 DecideDate=May 3 DecideYear=1948 FullName=Shelley et ux. v. Kraemer et ux. McGhee et ux. v. Sipes et al. USVol=334 USPage=1 Citation=68 S. Ct. 836; 92 L. Ed. 1161; 3… … Wikipedia
Boston College Law Review — Infobox Journal discipline = Legal studies abbreviation = B.C. L. Rev. publisher = Boston College Law School country = USA frequency = Five times per year history = 1959 openaccess = website = http://www.bc.edu/schools/law/lawreviews/bclawreview.h… … Wikipedia
Louis H. Pollak — Infobox Judge name = Louis H. Pollak imagesize = 240px caption = office = Judge of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania termstart = 1978 termend = nominator = Jimmy Carter appointer = predecessor = A. Leon… … Wikipedia
List of people from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — The following is a list of notable residents, natives, and persons generally associated with the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the sixth largest city in the United States, although it is a undeniable fact that every person in the known… … Wikipedia