Robert L. Carter ’41 LL.M.
January 3, 2012
Robert L. Carter ’41 LL.M. was a federal judge and a key architect of the legal strategy used to desegregate public schools through the Brown v. Board of Education litigation. He passed away on January 3, 2012, at the age of 94.
Carter was born in Caryville, Fla., in 1917 and grew up in East Orange, N.J. In high school, he successfully fought for the right to use the school swimming pool alongside white students. Carter went on to earn his B.A. and law degree at Lincoln University and Howard University School of Law, respectively, as well as an LL.M. from Columbia Law School.
After earning his LL.M., Carter joined the still-segregated U.S. Army Air Corps, where he experienced the type of pervasive discrimination that he had faced in high school. The military, Carter later recalled, “instilled in me a fierce determination to fight against racism with all my intellectual and physical strength.”
In 1944, Carter joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) at the invitation of the organization’s leader, Thurgood Marshall. He argued the Topeka case before the Supreme Court in Brown, while also serving as Marshall’s main legal strategist. Carter used a novel—and ultimately successful—approach drawing on psychological and sociological studies that demonstrated the adverse effects of segregation.
During his 24 years with the LDF and the NAACP, Carter won 21 of the 22 cases he argued before the Supreme Court. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Richard Nixon in 1972 and presided over hundreds of cases at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Carter, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995, is survived by his sons John and David; a sister, Alma; and a grandson.