Counsel in Loving v. Virginia to Deliver Smith Lecture at W&L Law Philip J. Hirschkop, a civil rights lawyer who argued the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down state bans on interracial marriage, will deliver the annual Leslie Devan Smith, Jr. Lecture at W&L Law this month.
Philip J. Hirschkop, a civil rights lawyer who argued the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down state bans on interracial marriage, will deliver the annual Leslie Devan Smith, Jr. Lecture at W&L Law this month.
The lecture is scheduled for Thursday, March 30 at 1:00 p.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall on the campus of Washington and Lee University. The event is free and open to the public.
Hirschkop was just three years out of law school when he argued Loving. Along with co-counsel Bernard Cohen, he developed the strategy to revive the case, which had ended five years previously with the conviction of Mildred and Richard Loving for defying Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages.
Hirschkop and Cohen first filed a motion to vacate the Lovings’ convictions in the Circuit Court for Caroline County, where they had been tried. When that motion was ignored, they requested a three-judge federal panel where they contested the constitutionality of Virginia’s law. That prompted the Virginia trial judge to finally deny the Lovings’ motion.
Hirschkop and Cohen appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which affirmed the lower court. The attorneys then took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 1967, the Court issued a unanimous decision in the Lovings’ favor and overturned their convictions. Its decision struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law and ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
Hirschkop was a Green Beret and paratrooper before getting an engineering degree and then attending law school. As a lawyer, he is widely recognized as one of the country’s premier civil rights litigators. Aside from Loving, he argued and won Cohen v. Chesterfield County, in which the U.S. Supreme Court abolished teacher maternity leave policies as illegal sex discrimination, protecting the rights of hundreds of thousands of female teachers, as well as Kirstein v. University of Virginia, which voided discrimination against women for admission to the University of Virginia and most other major universities and colleges in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Hirschkop has been counsel in scores of cases protecting the rights of dissidents, prisoners, activists and others shunned by society, including fighting for and winning the right of the leader of the American Nazi party to be buried in a national cemetery as a U.S. veteran. He was chief counsel to many of the groups opposed to the war in Vietnam, and served as General Counsel to PETA for thirty years.
His clients have included Martin Luther King, Jr, H. Rap Brown, two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Dr. Benjamin Spock, comedian Dick Gregory, attorney William Kunstler and novelist and activist Norman Mailer, who wrote of Hirschkop’s work representing demonstrators during the 1967 anti-war demonstrations in his Pulitzer Prize winning Armies of the Night:
Hirschkop’s dark hair and powerful short body put double weight back of every remark. He spoke quickly, clearly, with a mixture of brightness, boyishness, and driving determination, but there was implicit humor in everything he said, for it was obvious he did not believe many of the more pious sentiments he was obliged to express — what he did believe, what stood out about him, was his love of law as an intricate deceptive smashing driving tricky game somewhere between wrestling, football, and philosophy — what also stood out was his love of winning, his tenacity, his detestation of defeat.
Hirschkop has been honored by his peers with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Distinguished Service Award (1999); the Southern Trial Lawyers Association “War Horse Award” for extraordinary contribution to the trial bar of the nation (2000); the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 25th Anniversary Humanitarian Award; the Virginia Holocaust Museum and The Virginia Law Foundation Rule of Law Award (2012); and the Carrico Professionalism Award (2017) presented by the Virginia State Bar for his “unique contribution to the criminal justice system.”
The annual Smith Lecture is named in honor of Leslie Devan Smith, who graduated from the law school in 1969 and was the law school’s first African American graduate. In 2019, the Law School unveiled a new installation in Lewis Hall that celebrates Smith’s life and legacy. The display, located in the lobby outside the Millhiser Moot Court Room, tells the story of Smith’s arrival in Lexington, his many accomplishments as a student, and his all-too-short career with the U.S. Department of Justice before his tragic passing.