Document Type


Publication Title

Albany Law Review



Publication Date



George Bundy Smith, Brown v. Board of Education, Fordham University School of Law


As I have noted elsewhere, if I were asked to pick one moment in the legal history of the country where what ought to be came together with what is, it would be the unanimous decision of nine white men in Brown v. Board of Education dismantling the segregation of white and black children in public education. This was a watershed moment in the history of law. As Judge Robert Carter of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has written, this decision will "always stand at the highest pinnacle of American judicial expression because in guaranteeing equality to all persons in our society as a fundamental tenet of our basic law, it espouses the loftiest values." Benjamin Cardozo, the legendary chief judge of New York, described the chief worth of the judiciary as "making audible the ideals that might otherwise be silenced.. . [and] giving them continuity of life and of expression." Unlike most lawyers, George Bundy Smith understood the importance of that decision in a very personal way. Dean William Michael Treanor of Fordham Law School has said of Judge Smith that he is "someone whose life story and whose profound and inspirational commitment to the cause of racial justice are inextricably linked with the legacy of Brown." Despite the long road still to be traveled, the country owes lawyers like George Bundy Smith a huge debt for beginning the journey. In his Fordham graduation remarks, Judge Smith spoke of the difference between a lawyer and a good lawyer. He said that good lawyers recognize that "law is a privilege, a responsibility and a trust." They work to change things in the legal landscape that ought to be changed, they do their work in a way that inspires trust in the legal system, and they use their responsibility and trust to build upon and shape our democracy. He closed his remarks by emphasizing the importance of deeds and then expressed the hope that the members of the class would be able to look back twenty-five or fifty years from now and see that they were, indeed, good lawyers.