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William T. Coleman, legendary lawyer, dies at 96


William T. Coleman has died. Coleman was a fascinating figure. He graduated first in his class at Harvard Law School and became the first African American Supreme Court law clerk (as a law clerk for Justice Felix Frankfurter). He helped Thurgood Marshall write the briefs in Brown v. Board of Education, and he went on to argue 19 Supreme Court cases himself. He worked on the Warren Commission's investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He later served as secretary of transportation during the Ford administration. When I was in law school, back around 1997, I saw him speak, and I was pretty much in awe of him.

Here's Coleman talking about his work on Brown:

I was very excited to read Coleman's autobiography when it came out in 2011, although I confess I didn't finish it. I made it through the first 100 pages or so. But it was surprisingly boring: Coleman succeeded at everything he tried and enjoyed everything he worked on, which makes for a pretty dull story. Perhaps a great life and a naturally sunny disposition don't make for the best autobiography. But maybe I'll pick it up again on the event of his passing to see if I can draw more out of it. And I wonder if an outside biographer may do his story more justice.