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The Remarkable Life and Career of Judge Louis Pollak


Select Articles (Pre-2015) | Volumes 1-98
The Storied Third Branch with image of tree branch

Published February 2013

I first met Lou Pollak in 1974, when I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Lou had just left Yale Law School, where he had earlier served as Dean. Shortly after Lou’s arrival in Philadelphia, Penn’s Dean announced his resignation. The law faculty was deeply divided as to who would replace him—disagreeing over every candidate but Lou, who did not seek the job. As the consensus choice, he was appointed in 1975 and served as Dean until 1978, when he was appointed to the federal bench.

Lou’s remarkable career admirably prepared him for his judicial responsibilities. After graduating from Yale Law School and clerking for Justice Wiley Rutledge, Lou practiced at the Paul, Weiss law firm. During those years, he was part of the legal team that Thurgood Marshall assembled to formulate appellate strategy in Brown v. Board of Education. In the ensuing years, Lou continued to distinguish himself, serving as member of the Council of the American Law Institute, Vice President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Counsel to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and as Special Assistant to Phillip Jessup at the Department of State.

Lou served on the law faculties of Yale and Penn from 1955 to 1978. He was Dean at Yale from 1965 to 1970, and Dean at Penn from 1975 to 1978. During those decades of service, Lou not only fostered excellence in two already distinguished institutions, he literally trained several generations of lawyers, many of whom have gone on to lead the bar, the bench, and the academy.

Lou had a formidable record of writings on the law. With his penetrating intellect, he addressed a wide variety of subjects, ranging from questions of jurisprudence and legal philosophy to concerns about federal court jurisdiction and constitutional history.

As a member of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Pollak earned a reputation for brilliance, fairness, and humility. Lawyers loved appearing before him. He invariably was kind and patient. The members of the Eastern District knew him as a resource whose judgment and learning informed us all.

No biography of Judge Pollak would be complete without describing his generosity of spirit and the respect he showed throughout his life for those with whom he did not agree. Because he understood both the inexact nature of the law and the fallibility of human nature, Judge Pollak was free from dogmatism to a degree unique among those I have met who think seriously about serious matters. Finally, Judge Pollak had a wonderful sense of humor, a trait for which he rarely got credit. In the last conversation I had with him—several weeks before his death in May of this year—we talked about Yale Law School’s penchant for offering its students a decidedly non-legal course of study. “The problem with Yale Law School,” I said to him, “is that you don’t teach law.” With a grin and a twinkle in his eye, Lou responded, “well, we can’t cover everything.”

I will miss him.