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Robert L. Carter

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Title: Robert L. Carter  
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Subject: Sweatt v. Painter, Separate but Equal (film), List of Columbia Law School alumni, ConkShankboneCarterTreanor.JPG, Kenneth W. Mack
Collection: 1917 Births, 2012 Deaths, African-American Judges, American Civil Rights Lawyers, American Military Personnel of World War II, Barringer High School Alumni, Columbia Law School Alumni, Howard University School of Law Alumni, Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) Alumni, People from East Orange, New Jersey, People from Newark, New Jersey, People from Washington County, Florida, Spingarn Medal Winners, United States Army Air Forces Soldiers, United States District Court Judges Appointed by Richard Nixon
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Robert L. Carter

Robert Lee Carter
United States District Judge Robert L. Carter
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
December 31, 1986 – January 3, 2012
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
July 25, 1972 – December 31, 1986
Appointed by Richard Nixon[1]
Preceded by Thomas F. Croake
Succeeded by Kenneth Conboy
Personal details
Born (1917-03-11)March 11, 1917
Caryville, Florida, United States
Died January 3, 2012(2012-01-03) (aged 94)
Manhattan, New York, United States[1]
Spouse(s) Gloria Spencer[1]
Alma mater

Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) (A.B., 1937)
Howard University School of Law (LL.B., 1940)

Columbia Law School (LL.M., 1941)

Robert Lee Carter (March 11, 1917 – January 3, 2012) was an American civil rights activist and a United States District Judge.


  • Personal history and early life 1
  • Career as a leading civil rights advocate 2
  • Judicial career 3
  • Activism and civic leadership 4
  • Literary contributions 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Personal history and early life

Carter was born on March 11, 1917, in Caryville, Florida.[1] While an infant, his mother moved north to Newark, New Jersey and later East Orange, where he was raised and attended Barringer High School in Newark and then graduated at age 16 from East Orange High School after having skipped two grades.[2] He earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) and his law degree from Howard University School of Law in 1940, both on scholarship. Carter earned his LLM from Columbia Law School in 1941, after writing an influential master's thesis that would later define the NAACP's legal strategy on the right to freedom of association under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. He then joined the United States Army Air Corps a few months before the United States entered World War II.[1]

Career as a leading civil rights advocate

On behalf of Fordham Law School, dean William Treanor bestowed upon civil rights pioneer Judge Robert L. Carter a rare, honorary juris doctor. November 2004

In 1944, upon completion of his wartime service in the United States Army Air Corps, Carter went to work at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and in 1948 became a legal assistant to Thurgood Marshall.[1] In 1945, he became an assistant special counsel at the LDF. Carter was a lead attorney on Sweatt v. Painter[1] and presented part of the oral argument to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. He also worked on many important civil rights cases, including Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla..

In 1956, Carter succeeded Thurgood Marshall as the general counsel of the NAACP. Over the course of his tenure, Carter argued or co-argued and won twenty-one of twenty-two cases in the United States Supreme Court.

Among the most important cases Carter worked on after Brown was NAACP v. Alabama (1958), in which the Supreme Court held that the NAACP could not be required to make its membership lists public. This removed a tool of intimidation employed by some southern states after Brown was decided, and put into practice the insights into the First Amendment that Carter had gleaned when still a student at Columbia Law School.

In 1968, Carter resigned from the NAACP, along with his entire legal staff, in protest of the firing of NAACP employee Lewis Steele for a critical article he published in The New York Times Magazine. In his autobiography, Carter writes that the NAACP board's decision to fire Steele over the article was aimed at him, as "an effort to exert control over the general counsel's office and bring [Carter] in line."

In recognition of his civil rights achievements, Fordham University School of Law gave Carter an honorary juris doctor degree in November 2004.

In 2004, he was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal.[3]

Judicial career

On June 15, 1972, Carter was nominated by President Richard M. Nixon to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by Thomas F. Croake.[1] Carter was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 21, 1972, and received his commission on July 25, 1972. He assumed senior status on December 31, 1986, serving in that capacity until his death.

Activism and civic leadership

Carter was a co-founder of the Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston.

Carter was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[4]

He died of complications of a stroke in 2012.[1]

Literary contributions

In addition to writing numerous law review articles and essays on civil rights, Judge Carter published a well-received memoir of his struggles as a civil rights advocate.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reed, Roy (3 January 2012). "Robert L. Carter, an Architect of School Desegregation, Dies at 94".  
  2. ^ Schwaneberg, Robert. "Education building honors a champion: Rights lawyer Carter argued Brown case", copy of article from The Star-Ledger, November 21, 2006, at the Warren County Education Association. Accessed March 5, 2012. "Almost 54 years ago, Robert L. Carter stood before the U.S. Supreme Court and argued that segregated schools can never be equal.... Yesterday, the Trenton building that houses the state Department of Education was dedicated in honor of Carter, who grew up in Newark and East Orange and is now a federal judge in New York.... Born in Florida, Carter was 6 weeks old when his family moved to Newark. He attended Barringer High School in Newark and East Orange High School, graduating at age 16 after skipping two grades."
  3. ^ NAACP Spingarn Medal
  4. ^  

External links

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