Two Pathbreaking Scholars Remembered

A Leon HigginbothamA. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.

Lecturer A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., chief judge emeritus of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and public service professor of jurisprudence at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, died on December 14, 1998, at age 70.

A lecturer at the Law School in the 1980s and again since 1993, Higginbotham was teaching the seminar Race, Values, and the American Legal Process during the fall semester. He first offered the popular seminar at the School in 1993.

His ardent defense of civil rights throughout his career—on the bench, in the classroom, and in numerous books, articles, and public talks—earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and many other awards.

Professor Charles Ogletree ’78, who is continuing work on several of Higginbotham’s current projects, called Higginbotham "the epitome of the people’s lawyer. Despite his individual merits and accomplishments, he never hesitated to lend a hand to the poor, the voiceless, the powerless, and the downtrodden." Ogletree said Higginbotham was "not only a mentor but a father figure for me and for a generation of young law professors and lawyers."

President Carter named Higginbotham to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in October 1977, where he remained until retirement in 1993, becoming one of the country’s most prominent African American judges. He served as vice chairman of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, which investigated urban riots of the 1960s and produced the celebrated "Kerner Report" that pointed an ominous finger at the growing polarization between blacks and whites.

As an author, Higginbotham was best known for a widely acclaimed multivolume series on Race and the American Legal Process. The first installment, In the Matter of Color: The Colonial Period (Oxford University Press, 1978), contains the "first examination of the legal precedents for distinguishing black people from others in Colonial America," according to Nathan I. Huggins, Harvard’s (late) Du Bois Professor of History and of Afro-American Studies. Oxford University Press published volume 2, Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process, in November 1996.

Memorial services were held in his honor at Harvard and Yale Law Schools, and in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Among the hundreds attending his Boston funeral service were civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer ’64 and numerous other federal and state judges, and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. A tribute to Higginbotham will appear in the June issue of the Harvard Law Review.

Elisabeth OwensElisabeth A. Owens
1919 -1998

Elisabeth A. Owens, Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law, Emerita, a major scholar in shaping the field of international tax law and the first woman to receive tenure at HLS, died November 15, 1998, at age 79.

After Owens graduated from Smith College in 1940 summa cum laude with a degree in economics, she went on to graduate study in that field at the University of Chicago.

Once WWII started, she came to Washington to work as an economist and procedures analyst in the Office of Price Administration, the State Department, and the Bureau of the Budget. In 1948 she left D.C. for Yale Law School.

"Initially I had no intention of becoming a lawyer," said Owens in an interview that appeared in the Bulletin in 1989. "It wasn’t that I wanted to practice law. It was that lawyers had the reputation of being the only ones who understood the English language . . . although I have long since learned that this is not the case."

After four years of general practice at Hill, Barlow, Goodale & Adams in Boston, Owens began working at the School in 1955 as a research assistant to the tax reform expert Professor Stanley Surrey, the first director of the School’s International Program in Taxation (ITP). When asked how she decided to focus on international tax law, Owens said, "I think, at one point, Professor Surrey asked me, ‘What is a creditable tax?’ My answer turned into three books."

Owens was the author of The Foreign Tax Credit (ITP, 1961). Professor Emeritus Oliver Oldman ’53, former director of ITP, said the book "opened and organized a new area of law that hadn’t been studied before." The tax credit eliminates double taxation of foreign investment income due to overlapping tax jurisdictions of the United States and other nations.

Owens also wrote with Gerald Ball the two-volume work The Indirect Credit (ITP, 1975 and 1979). In 1965 she became the first director of research at ITP and oversaw expansion of its publications. Said Oldman, "She refined new areas and got the best scholars to exert themselves to the utmost."

In 1965 Owens began to teach at the School as a lecturer, leading a seminar on U.S. aspects of international taxation. At the time her research focused on tax treaties, and she served as a consultant to the Treasury Department on the subject.

In 1972, Owens was granted tenure. Her colleague the late Professor Milton Katz ’31 called the appointment "a very good thing for the School and a delayed justice." Said Owens, "It was a decision that I also felt was overdue."

In mid-career Owens developed an interest in natural resources law, and she divided her time between this field and international tax until her retirement in 1981.

A tribute to Owens will appear in the May issue of the Harvard Law Review.