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ROBERT N.C. NIX, JR., L’ 53, who as the first African American to serve on a state’s highest court became a role model for the black community, died last August at the age of 75.
“He didn’t have anything handed to him. Everyone admired him for achieving something so unusual,” said Frederica Massiah-Jackson L’74, President Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and one of Justice Nix’s former clerks.
Nix exuded dignity and high morals during his career, maintaining a commitment to individual rights, bred by a keen awareness of discrimination. He spent 24 years on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the last 12 as Chief Justice.
His ascension to Chief Justice began in 1971, when Justice Nix confounded conventional wisdom and won election to the Court in a landslide – no small feat in Pennsylvania, where no African American had ever won a statewide election. But breaking barriers came naturally to Nix, who watched his grandfather rise out of slavery to become a minister and dean of South Carolina State College, and his father, Robert N.C. Nix Sr., become not only the first African American elected to Congress from Pennsylvania but a powerful voice in the corridors of Washington.
After serving as a Deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania, he joined his father’s law firm, Nix, Rhodes and Nix, as a partner. Nix was a skilled criminal defense lawyer and an articulate litigator, which served him well first on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, to which he was elected in 1967, and later on the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.