On January 3rd, America lost one of the greatest champions of equal opportunity and human rights that our nation has ever known. Judge Robert L. Carter, civil rights lawyer, jurist, and fierce defender of justice, passed away at age 94 after suffering a stroke.
Judge Carter was a primary architect behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, crafting an innovative approach that blended constitutional scholarship, social science research, historical knowledge, and strategic litigation. After the victory, he pursued a strategy that helped bring desegregation to the North, where it had long been treated as an open secret. Over his career, he argued 22 cases before the Supreme Court, and won 21 of them.
As a federal judge, he held litigants to the highest standards, while rigorously guarding equal justice under law. Over four decades on the bench, he brought greater inclusion to the New York Police Department and to construction trades that had long excluded people of color and women. And he continued to speak out against injustice wherever he encountered it. That he chose me as one of his law clerks was a singular honor; I remain humbled by having been able to serve in that capacity.
In 2007, Judge Carter honored The Opportunity Agenda by authorizing us to create a Robert L. Carter Legal Fellowship for innovative lawyers to promote equal justice under law. Our three Carter Fellows since then have secured more equal health care for people of color in New York and Connecticut, expanded fair housing in Texas and at the national level, and ensured that federal economic recovery programs reached the hardest hit communities around the country. We are proud to continue Judge Carter’s legacy of excellence, innovation, and equal opportunity for all.
Thank you, Judge Carter, for your lifetime of service, for the transformative change you brought to our nation, and for the sterling example of leadership that you have given us all.