Judicial center Lewis F. Powell: Supreme Court justice's moderation was his power

winners had to persuade him.

August 27, 1998

FINDING A majority on the usually fractious Supreme Court is crucial. Few did that with greater skill and grace than Lewis F. Powell.

A Richmond establishment lawyer who had helped bring Virginia into compliance with desegregation, he was 64, a conservative who loved lawyering and not judging, when President Nixon nominated him in 1971.

His departure from the high court in 1987 after 15 terms was lamented by colleagues because of the gentlemanly way he had found common ground among them.

Justice Powell, who died Tuesday at 90, will be remembered for the majorities he made. Often, the justice who won was the one who had persuaded Lewis Powell.

He could be pigeon-holed as a liberal, when he found that retarded people had rights, or conservative, when he found a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy constitutional. Or both, when his 1978 opinion threw out a California medical school's racial preferences while upholding racial considerations within the admissions process.

The mainstream has a hallowed place in national life, as do individuals entrusted with locating it.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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