IN MEMORIAM: A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM JR.
Extending condolences from the Board of Governors on the death of A. Leon Higginbotham, former Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, distinguished public servant and a true Philadelphia lawyer
WHEREAS, there are and have historically been many fine lawyers and judges who made and make their homes in Philadelphia;
WHEREAS, from time to time, one individual’s accomplishments and actions are such that that individual stands out, even among a group of distinguished lawyers and judges, as one who leaves an indelible mark, truly towering above the rest;
WHEREAS, A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., a long-time Philadelphian and former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, passed away on December 14 at the age of 70;
WHEREAS, Judge Higginbotham was born to working class parents, a domestic and a laborer, and was raised in Trenton, New Jersey, eventually leaving to earn his college degree at Purdue University and, in 1952, his law degree from Yale Law School;
WHEREAS, Judge Higginbotham began to practice law in Philadelphia, helping to form Philadelphia’s only black law firm in the 1950's, where, according to December 15, 1998 Philadelphia Inquirer, partners worked out of a residence on South 15th Street because blacks could not rent space in Center City buildings;
WHEREAS, in 1964, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated A. Leon Higginbotham to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, thereby beginning a judicial career that would subsequently see Judge Higginbotham appointed to the United State Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, his elevation to service as Chief Judge of that court, and finally, two years service as a senior judge before retiring from the bench;
WHEREAS, Judge Higginbotham continued his career after retiring from the bench, joining the faculty of Harvard University, where he was a professor of jurisprudence at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and practicing law with the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison;
WHEREAS, perhaps more importantly, after leaving the bench, Judge Higginbotham continued his ongoing discourse on racism started earlier with the publication of In the Matter of Color, his landmark 1978 book about slavery in America, writing, teaching and lecturing about justice, freedom and American jurisprudence;
WHEREAS, Judge Higginbotham’s commitment to equal and civil rights was recognized in 1995, when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1996, when he was awarded the NAACP’s Springarn Medal;
WHEREAS, Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell reacted to news of Judge Higginbotham’s death, stating "We have lost one of the greatest Philadelphians ever to sit on the federal bench," and although Judge Higginbotham’s life and achievements make him truly a national figure, Philadelphia lawyers will feel his loss more keenly than most, as perhaps Judge Higginbotham’s greatest legacy is the many lawyers who knew him as a beloved colleague, teacher, mentor and friend;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association, on behalf of the Association’s entire membership, extends its heartfelt condolences to Judge Higginbotham’s family and friends on their loss and joins with others nationally in mourning the loss of this distinguished public servant.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: December 17, 1998