Pictured: Steve Pollak (center), with Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Damon T. Hewitt (left) and Lawyers’ Committee Honorary Lifetime Trustee and a former Executive Director Judge David S. Tatel (right), formerly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit in December 2023. Photo: Elijah Craig III/Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
This past weekend, treasured former board member and friend to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Stephen J. Pollak, died at the age of 95.
Steve was unshrinking in his fight for justice since he was an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in the late 1940s. Active in the National Student Association, he successfully led the group’s charge to require fraternities to remove charters that barred Jewish and Black students from joining.
As a young attorney at Covington & Burling, Steve further deepened his commitment to advancing justice and equity by taking on pro bono cases focused on improving housing for the poor.
Steve’s legal expertise led him to serve in the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1961, he was appointed as Special Assistant to the Attorney General. He went on to serve the department in various roles, including as First Assistant and Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division, until 1969.
That same year, Steve joined the Board of Directors for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He was a vital member of the Lawyers’ Committee community throughout his extensive and accomplished career, including through his pro bono service and as co-chair of the board from 1975 to 1977. He continued to serve on the board for another 45 years, even after his retirement as a partner at Goodwin Proctor, LLP. Over the years, he chaired the board’s Voting Rights Committee and was an active and engaged Supreme Court Amicus Committee member until he stepped down from board service in late 2022. Steve noted that his committee work was a cherished part of his professional life.
“Steve’s life and career exemplified what it means to be devoted to service for the greater good of society and, in his case, for the advancement of civil rights,” stated Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Damon T. Hewitt. “His commitment to practicing and enforcing the rule of law as a means to pursuing justice stands as a model for all of us who share an interest in transforming our country for the better.”
“Steve Pollak was a giant in civil rights and the legal field in general. His legacy lies not only in the cases he worked on and programs he instituted and developed, but also with the people he mentored and influenced,” said Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Chief Counsel Jon Greenbaum. “I am among the many whose career and life have been significantly enhanced by Steve. I met Steve in my first week at the Lawyers’ Committee in December 2003, and for 20 years I relied on his honest, caring advice.”
In recognition of his exemplary legal career and his impact on society, Steve received many honors and awards throughout his lifetime, including the Thurgood Marshall Award for Service in the Public Interest by the District of Columbia Bar in 2001; the Daniel Webster Distinguished Service Award from the Dartmouth Club of Washington in 2005; and the Justice Potter Stewart Award from the Council for Court Excellence of Washington, D.C. in 2006.
The Lawyers’ Committee had the distinct privilege of honoring Steve twice—first with the Whitney North Seymour Award in 1994, and, most recently, with the Lloyd Cutler Lifetime Achievement Award in December 2023, just weeks before his passing, celebrating his exceptional professional achievement and impact on advancing equal justice under the law.
The Lawyers’ Committee leadership, staff, and board send our deepest condolences to Steve’s family, along with our gratitude for a life and career spent working to advance civil rights. His impact was tremendous, and we will remember and miss him dearly. Most importantly, we will continue the work that he began.