Fulfilling the Promise

Howard University

School of Law

HUSL Event Photos

Outside Events

HU Home

Robert L. Carter


Biographical Sketches

Robert L. Carter
Julian R. Dugas
Jack Greenberg
William H. Hastie
George E. C. Hayes
A. Leon Higginbotham
Oliver W. Hill
Charles Hamilton Houston
Thurgood Marshall
William Robert Ming, Jr.
Constance Baker Motley
James M. Nabrit, Jr.
Frank D. Reeves
Spottswood W. Robinson, III



Robert L. Carter was born on March 11, 1917, in Careyville, Florida, but while he was still an infant, his mother moved north to Newark, New Jersey, where he was raised. Carter was a remarkable student, graduating from high school at sixteen having skipped two grades. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania on a scholarship and earned his bachelor's degree in political science. He received a scholarship to attend Howard University School of Law from which he graduated in 1940.  Carter then earned his LL.M. from Columbia Law Schoola year later (1941).

Carter was then drafted into the armed forces where he experienced the racial prejudice pervading the military.  In 1944 upon completion of his "stormy career in the Army Air Force" (Kluger, Simple Justice, p. 272 (1975)), he went to work as a legal assistant to Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  The next year he became an assistant special counsel at the LDF.  Robert Carter was one of the lead attorneys on Sweatt v. Painter and Brown and worked on the many other matters of the fund in those years, including Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Oklahoma. In 1956 Carter succeeded Thurgood Marshall as the LDF's general counsel.  Over the course of his tenure at the LDF, Carter argued or co-argued and won twenty-one of twenty-two cases in the Supreme Court.

Among the most important cases Carter worked on after Brown was NAACP v. Alabama (1958), in which the Supreme Court held that the NAACP could not be required to make its membership lists public. This removed a tool of intimidation employed by some southern states after Brown was decided.

Carter left the NAACP in 1968 and worked in a private law firm until 1972 when he was appointed to the bench as a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Over the course of his remarkable career, Judge Carter received many awards, honors and degrees. Judge Carter was a co-founder of the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL). He has served as a member of innumerable committees of the bar and the court, and has been associated with a very wide array of educational institutions, organizations, and foundations. He has written extensively about discrimination in the United States, particularly school segregation, and of his longtime friend and colleague, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston.


1.  Address: Discrimination In The New York Criminal Justice System, 3 N.Y. City L.R. 267 (Summer 2000)

2.  In Tribute: Charles Hamilton Houston, 111 Harv. L. Rev. 2149 (1998)

3.  Racism and the Criminal Justice System: The Struggle Continues, NBA Nat'l B.A. Mag. 34 (Apr. 10, 1996)

4.  Public School Desegregation: A Contemporary Analysis,  37 St. Louis U. L.J. 885 (1993)

5.  In Memory of Thurgood Marshall, 68 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 205 (1993)

6.  A Tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall, 105 Harv. L. Rev. 33 (1991)

7.  The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a Vindicator of Civil Rights, 137 U. Pa. L. Rev. 2179 (1989)

8.  Book Review of The NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education 1925 -1950, by Mark Tushnet (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 86 Mich. L. Rev. 1083 (1988)

9.  Remarks: The Hisotry and Purposes of Rule 11, 1985 Symposium:  Amended Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:  How Go the Best Laid Plans?,  54 Fordham L. Rev. 4 (1985)