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Supreme Court Justice
Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. was born in Suffolk, Virginia, on September 19, 1907, but spent most of his life in Richmond. He earned his B.S. and LL.B. degrees from Washington and Lee University (1929 and 1931, respectively), and his LL.M. from Harvard Law School (1932). After college he joined the Richmond firm of Christian, Barton and Parker. In 1935 he joined Hunton, Williams, Anderson, Gay and Moore, where he remained until being named to the Supreme Court, except for a thirty-three-month stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
As a lawyer, Powell was well respected for his work in the courtroom, as well as for carrying one of the heaviest loads of pro bono work in all of Richmond. This respect led to his serving as president of the American Bar Association (1964-1965), the American College of Trial Lawyers (1968-1969), and the American Bar Foundation (1969-1971).
In addition to his legal work, Powell also kept himself busy with public work. He chaired the commission which wrote the charter introducing a city manager form of government to Richmond (1947-1948). He became a member of the Richmond School Board in 1950, and served as its chairman from 1952 to 1961, during which period he oversaw the desegregation of Richmond's schools. On the state level, he served as a member of the Virginia State Board of Education (1961-1969), including a term as president of that body (1968-1969), and was a member of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision (1967-1968).
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Powell to the National Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, a position he held until 1967. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him to the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel, which was charged with studying the Department of Defense; he held this position until 1970.
On October 21, 1971, President Nixon named Powell to the Supreme Court. Despite having never served a judgeship at any level prior to his appointment, Powell was confirmed by the Senate on December 7, and took office on January 7, 1972. Considered a moderate on most issues, Justice Powell was the "swing vote" in many of the Court's decisions. He retired from active service as a Justice on June 26, 1987, but maintained chambers in the Supreme Court building and sat as an extra judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit until 1996.
Justice Lewis F. Powell died at his home in Richmond on August 25, 1998.
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This page was last updated on February 11, 2019.