Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Robert L. Carter, federal judge, arbitor and author dies at 94
January 04, 2012

Robert L. Carter, a former federal judge in New York died at 94, 3 January 2012.

In the late 1940s and 1950s as a member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., led by Thurgood Marshall, Carter had a significant hand in a number of historic legal challenges to racial discrimination. Most significantly, Mr. Carter spent years doing research in law and history to construct the legal theory that was used to challenge the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson during the infamous 1954, Brown v. Board of Education case. Mr. Carter insisted on using the research of the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark that showed black children suffered in their learning and development by being segregated. Mr. Clark’s testimony proved crucial in persuading the court to act, Mr. Carter wrote in a 2004 book, “A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights.”

Born in Caryville, in the Florida panhandle, on March 17, 1917, the youngest of nine children, Carter was raised in New Jersey by a single mother, following the death of his father in his first year. His first taste of activism came when he experienced racial discrimination as a 16-year-old in East Orange, N.J. The high school he attended allowed black students to use its pool only on Fridays, after classes were over. After he read in the newspaper that the State Supreme Court had outlawed such restrictions, he entered the pool with white students and stood up to a teacher’s threat to have him expelled from school. He enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania at 16, and later, Howard University School of Law in Washington. He then went to Columbia University as a graduate student and wrote his master’s thesis on the First Amendment.

In 1944 he took a job as a lawyer at the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, then the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (it later became an independent organization). By 1948, he had become Marshall’s chief deputy and soon became active in school segregation cases. After Marshall chose Jack Greenberg as his successor as director-counsel of the fund in 1961, Carter moved over to the NAACP as its general council. Carter resigned in 1968, protesting the board’s decision to fire a Lewis M. Steel, for publishing an article in The New York Times Magazine critical of the Supreme Court. After a year at the Urban Center at Columbia, he joined the New York law firm of Poletti, Freidin, Prashker, Feldman & Gartner. President Richard M. Nixon nominated him to the federal bench for the Southern District of New York in 1972 at the recommendation of Senator Jacob K. Javits, Republican of New York.

On the bench, Judge Carter became known for his strong hand in cases involving professional basketball. He oversaw the merger of the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association in the 1970s, the settlement of a class-action antitrust suit against the N.B.A. brought by Oscar Robertson and other players, and a number of high-profile free-agent arbitration disputes involving players like Marvin Webster and Bill Walton.

In 1979, his findings of bias shown against black and Hispanic applicants for police jobs in New York City led to significant changes in police hiring policies and an increase in minority representation on the force.

See Brown v. the Board of Education for more information.

Home  |  About Us  |  Contact Us  |  Copyright Information  |  The King Center  |  RSS