2012 Philadelphia Bar Association’s Justice Sotomayor Diversity Award
Posted on April 4th, 2012

On March 28, 2012, the Philadelphia Bar Association awarded its Justice Sotomayor Diversity Award to the Liacouras Committee, formed in 1970 to study the Pennsylvania Bar examination and determine whether its grading practices were discriminatory against African Americans who sought admission to the Pennsylvania Bar.

The editors and staff of the Temple Law Review wish to recognize the tremendous accomplishments of the committee members, including Chair Peter J. Liacouras (former Dean of Temple Law School and President of Temple University) and Legal Advisor Robert Reinstein (also former Dean of and current professor at Temple Law School).

In honor of the award, we have reposted the Liacouras Committee Report and Recommendations, originally published in the forty-fourth volume of the Temple Law Review (then Temple Law Quarterly). Below are Professor Reinstein’s remarks on accepting the award, and a fuller history to the important role the Liacouras Committee played in integrating the Pennsylvania Bar.

-The Editors

Remarks of Professor Robert Reinstein on Receiving
The Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award on Behalf of the
Liacouras Commission

On behalf of the Liacouras Commission, I am honored to accept this wonderful award and thank the Bar Association not only for the award but also for the role that it played in creating and supporting the work of the Commission.

In 1970, I was in my second year of teaching at Temple Law School when a colleague, Professor Peter Liacouras, asked me to help a commission he chaired looking into whether there was racial discrimination in admission to the Pennsylvania Bar.  The reader of the Liacouras Commission’s report, which is published in Volume 44 of the Temple Law Review, can review its findings and recommendations.  I want to explain how the commission came into being, and the sequels to the report.

The driving force behind this commission was Judge Clifford Scott Green, then a distinguished member of the Court of Common Pleas.  For many years, Judge Green had been distressed with the virtual absence of black attorneys in the Commonwealth.  A top graduate of Temple Law School (and editor of the Law Review), Judge Green was  admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1952 – one of two black attorneys admitted that year and the thirty-third in the Commonwealth’s history.[1]  And 1952 was a typical year.  Between 1920 and 1970, an average of two black attorneys were admitted per year.  In 1970, there were 12,300 lawyers in the Commonwealth, of whom only 130 were African-Americans.

We remember Clifford Scott Green as an outstanding judge and humanitarian, a person who treated everyone with fairness, dignity and respect.  But Judge Green was also intolerant — he was intolerant of injustice.  The exclusion of African-Americans from the Pennsylvania bar was deplorable.  I think that the final straw for Judge Green occurred when the Dean of Howard Law School advised his students not to apply for admission to the Pennsylvania bar because black lawyers were not welcome in this State.  A shameful situation had become notorious.[2]   Judge Green asked the Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, Robert Landis, to appoint a commission to investigate the Board of Law Examiners’ practices.  Landis agreed, which was quite courageous inasmuch as the Board was appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and was chaired by a Superior Court judge.  Landis appointed Judge Green (who would later serve as a Federal District Court judge), Judge Paul Dandridge (then of the Municipal Court and later of the Common Pleas Court), Riccardo Jackson (then an attorney and later a Common Pleas Court judge), and W. Bourn Ruthrauff (an attorney who became a partner in a major law firm).

Landis wanted to appoint Judge Green as chair of the commission, but Green refused.  He insisted that, to have credibility, the chair must be a white person – and that the chair be someone who was tenacious, who would not back down in fight, and who was totally committed to equal opportunity.  Those characteristics describe Peter Liacouras, who would later become a transformative Dean of Temple Law School and the greatest President in the modern history of Temple University. At Green’s request, Landis appointed Liacouras as the chair, and the commission rightly came to bear his name.

The investigation faced daunting obstacles.  The commission did not have subpoena power, nor could it depose witnesses or conduct any other discovery.  Fortunately, however, the commission was able to obtain an enormous amount of helpful information from people of good will who were within the system and wanted change to occur.

The commission’s report was issued in December 1970.  The commission had found substantial evidence of racial discrimination in the administration of the bar examination.  It also found that the grading process was unfair to all applicants and that the examination itself lacked validity.  The commission’s recommendations were quite modest – basically to insure that the examination was graded anonymously and that professional educators participate in the construction and grading of the examination.  But the reaction to the report was divided and explosive.  Chancellor Landis and other leaders of the bar supported the report and its recommendations.  Members of the Board of Law Examiners and other judges and bar leaders denounced the report as defamatory and full of errors and lies.   In the Philadelphia Bar Association, a motion was introduced to censure the members of the commission and Chancellor Landis.[3]

The turning point came from the Bar Association.  The Board of Governors rejected the censure motion and instead accepted the report and endorsed the recommendations of the commission.  The Bar Association then put its full weight behind those recommendations, and they were implemented.

The results were immediate and astounding.  The number of black applicants admitted to the Pennsylvania bar skyrocketed, and the bar finally became integrated.  Moreover, all applicants benefitted from the adoption of the commission’s recommendations, because the bar examination and the grading process became fairer and more valid for everyone.

The Philadelphia Bar Association’s decision to choose the commission and its scrivener as the recipients of the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award is particularly appropriate.  Speaking on behalf of the commission, I can say with certainty that these historic accomplishments would not have occurred without the Bar Association’s support – from the courageous decision of its Chancellor to appoint the commission to the determination of the Board of Governors to put the Association’s full weight behind an effort that materially advanced our precious goal of achieving equal justice under law.

 Robert J. Reinstein
Clifford Scott Green Professor of Law
Temple University Beasley School of Law
March 28, 2012

Read the Full Liacouras Commission Report Here

[1]   The thirty-fourth, admitted the next year, was A. Leon Higginbotham.

[2]   Howard’s Dean did not know how bad the situation actually was.  In the course of the commission’s investigation, one of the examiners told us that he developed his model “A” answer by picking a submission from a graduate of Harvard Law School, and that he picked a paper by a Howard Law School graduate to have a presumptively incorrect answer.  I was allowed to examine the two applicants’ answers in constitutional law, unfortunately after all of the applicants were notified whether they passed or failed.  In a bitter irony, the “Harvard” answer was incorrect because the applicant relied on a decision that had been overruled by the Supreme Court, while the “Howard” applicant cited the governing decision correctly.

[3]  Closer to home, the then dean of Temple Law School attempted to prevent the Law Review from publishing the report by threatening to refuse to certify the editors as persons of good character for bar admission.  This threat was not carried out because the faculty overrode the dean and guaranteed academic freedom to the editors.