Powell, Lewis F., Jr. (1907–)

Author:J. Harvie Wilkinson

Page 1975

Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr., has always eluded conventional portraiture. In broad brush, Powell appears the archetypal conservative: a successful corporate lawyer, a director of eleven major companies, a pillar of Richmond, Virginia's civic and social life. The roll call of legal honors?president of the American Bar Association, the American College of Trial Lawyers, and the American Bar Foundation?does little to dispel the impression.

The portrait, however, needs serious refinement. During Virginia's "massive resistance," when the Byrd organization chose to close public schools rather than accept racial integration, Powell, as chairman of the Richmond Public School Board, fought successfully to keep Richmond's open. As vice-president of the National Legal Aid and Defender Society, he helped persuade the organized bar to support publicly financed legal services for the poor. Jean Camper Cahn, a black leader with whom he worked in that endeavor, found Powell "so curiously shy, so deeply sensitive to the hurt or embarrassment of another, so self-effacing that it is difficult to reconcile the public and private man?the honors and the acclaim with the gentle, courteous, sensitive spirit that one senses in every conversation, no matter how casual.?"

The portrait of the private practitioner parallels that of the Supreme Court Justice. The broad picture is again one of orthodox adherence to the canons of restraint. Powell labored diligently to limit the powers of the federal courts. He sought to narrow the STANDING of litigants invoking federal JURISDICTION to instances of actual injury in WARTH V. SELDIN (1975). He dissented when the Court in Cannon v. University of Chicago (1979) inferred from federal statutes a private cause of action. He greatly restricted the power of federal judges to review claims of unlawful SEARCH AND SEIZURE raised by state defendants in STONE V. POWELL (1976). And he urged the sharp curtailment of federal equitable remedies such as student BUSING for racial balance, in cases like KEYES V. DENVER SCHOOL DISTRICT #1 (1973).

While working to limit federal judicial power, Powell championed the power of others to operate free of constitutional strictures. Thus prosecutors should enjoy discretion in initiating prosecution, police and GRAND JURIES in pursuing EVIDENCE, trial judges in questioning jurors, welfare workers in terminating assistance, and military officers in conducting training. The...

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