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Hon. Louis Pollak, constitutional law scholar and former Dean of Penn Law, dies at 89

May 11, 2012

The Hon. Louis Pollak, who served as Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1975 to 1978 before being appointed to the federal bench, died Tuesday at his home in Philadelphia after a long battle with heart disease. He was 89.

Judge Pollak, who served on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was widely regarded as one of the leading members of the judiciary in the country.

 “It is with great sadness that we mourn Louis Pollak,” said Michael A. Fitts, Dean of Penn Law. “Throughout his career he was a distinguished constitutional law scholar and public citizen, having served as the co-author of the brief in Brown versus Board of Education. Despite all the public accolades, Lou Pollak was simply a beloved figure, deeply kind and thoughtful, adored by his clerks, students and colleagues.”
 
“All who had the privilege of spending any time with Lou Pollak were better for the experience,” said Stephen Burbank, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice. “A giant of the law in the twentieth century, he cast a shadow of learning, wisdom and love.”
 
Judge Pollak was born in New York City in 1922, the son of a prominent civil rights lawyer. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1943 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, before entering Yale Law School, where he graduated in 1948 and was editor of the Law Review.
 
From the beginning of his career, Judge Pollak had a passionate concern for the cause of civil rights. He began his legal career by clerking for U.S.  Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge and joined a group of volunteer lawyers assisting Thurgood Marshall, then-director counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund. Judge Pollak played a key role in planning and drafting briefs for Brown v. Board of Education. He remained active with the Legal Defense Fund as a board member and vice president until becoming a judge in 1978.
 
After completing his clerkship, Judge Pollak worked from 1949 to 1951 as an associate at the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He then served in the U.S. State Department as a special assistant to Ambassador-at-Large Philip C. Jessup and later took the position of assistant counsel for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
 
In 1955 Judge Pollak joined the Yale Law School faculty, where he remained until 1974, serving as Dean from 1965 to 1970. In 1974, he moved to Penn Law, becoming Dean the following year.
 
Upon being appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, Judge Pollak retired from the full-time Penn Law faculty. But he continued to teach a seminar at the Law School as an adjunct professor until his death.
 
“The last time he taught at the Law School he received one of our teaching prizes,” said Dean Fitts. “Several weeks ago Penn Law named our new alumni public service award at the Law School after him. It is a perfect tribute to his career– and the man.”
 
Judge Pollak is survived by his wife, the former Katherine Weiss, whom he wed in 1952; five daughters; six granddaughters, and two grandsons.
 
A memorial service for Judge Pollak will be planned by the Law School.