By Joe Messa
The MessaLaw Blog is spending the month of February honoring the achievements and contributions of African Americans to America’s legal system. Today, we will discuss the Honorable Spottswood William Robinson, an educator, civil rights attorney, and Federal Judge.
Spottswood William Robinson III was born July 26, 1916 in Richmond, Virginia to Spottswood William Robinson II, a lawyer, and Inez Irene Clements. He attended Virginia Union High School and Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class in 1939 with the highest scholastic average in the history of the Howard University Law School.
From 1939 to 1947, Robinson was a faculty member at Howard University School of Law. In 1948, Robinson began his affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a core attorney of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund. During that time, Robinson worked on important civil rights cases including Brown v. Board of Education and Chance v. Lambeth, a civil suit brought by William C. Chance against the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company after he was forcibly removed from a train and then arrested due to the company’s racial segregation policies. A jury verdict ruled in favor of the plaintiff, nullifying carrier-enforced racial segregation in interstate transportation.
From 1960 to 1964, Robinson served as Dean of the Howard University School of Law. During that time, he also served as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
In 1964, Robinson became the first African American appointed to the Unites States District Court for the District of Columbia. His decision in the 1972 case Canterbury v. Spence is credited with requiring medical doctors to secure informed consent before administering treatment. In 1966, an appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson established Judge Robinson as the first African American to hold a judgeship on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. And in 1981, Judge Robinson became the first African American to serve as a Chief Judge of the court.
Spottswood W. Robinson III died on October 11, 1998 in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
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Joseph L. Messa, Jr. is the founding partner of Messa & Associates, P.C. He is an AV-rated attorney (highest rating available), listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Read More