John Silard ’52 was a renowned civil rights attorney who, together with his law partner, Joseph L. Rauh Jr., played a significant role in some of the most challenging and noteworthy cases of the 20th century. Silard passed away on November 29, 2009, at the age of 80.
Silard was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in Budapest, Hungary. His family eventually fled the encroaching Nazi forces and moved to New York, where Silard attended both Columbia College and Columbia Law School before spending two years in the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps. After completing his service, Silard teamed up with Rauh and embarked on a career in civil rights law.
Together, Silard and Rauh assembled a diverse client list that spanned the socioeconomic spectrum. They defended playwright Arthur Miller, who was charged with contempt of court for refusing to reveal the names of his friends and associates who may have been Communists. The duo also secured reparations totaling more than $11 million for 4,000 Japanese-Americans whose assets were frozen after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when anti-Japanese sentiment was on the rise in this country. And in the 1960s and ’70s, they developed a robust labor law practice, representing the United Automobile Workers, among other unions.
Silard was especially committed to fighting for racial equality in education. In 1970, he and Rauh joined the legal team representing minority families in a federal lawsuit against the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The suit alleged that the department engaged in racial discrimination by providing federal funds to segregated public schools and colleges.
Silard and his team prevailed at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the decision forced 10 states to desegregate their schools or sacrifice their federal funding.
“My father was the kind of lawyer who fought hard for those in the labor and African-American movements,” said Silard’s son, Timothy, in an obituary published by
LegalTimes.com. “We grew up around the major players in those movements.”
Silard is survived by his wife of 59 years, Janet; three sons: Michael, Christopher, and Timothy; and four grandchildren.