Lawrence W. Pierce

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Lawrence Pierce
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
November 18, 1981 – January 1, 1990
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Murray Gurfein
Succeeded by Joseph McLaughlin
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
May 20, 1971 – November 18, 1981
Appointed by Richard Nixon
Preceded by William Herlands
Succeeded by Shirley Kram
Personal details
Born (1924-12-31) December 31, 1924 (age 92)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Alma mater Saint Joseph's University
Fordham University

Lawrence W. Pierce (born December 31, 1924) is an American lawyer who served for 24 years as a federal judge. A native of Philadelphia, Pierce attended St. Joseph's University and Fordham Law School.

Legal career[edit]

As a lawyer, Pierce worked as a staff attorney with the civil branch of The Legal Aid Society in New York City and then for six years served as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn. From 1961 to 1963 he was a deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department. From 1963 to 1966 he was Director of the New York State Division for Youth, and from 1966 to 1970 he was Chairman of the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission, which opened or funded 23 treatment centers.

In 1971 President Nixon appointed Pierce to serve as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. After Pierce served as a district judge for ten years, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Pierce became the third African-American to serve on the Second Circuit, following Thurgood Marshall and Amalya Kearse.

In 1978, Chief Justice Warren Burger appointed Pierce to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He also was the American Bar Association's Alternate Observer at the United Nations. Pierce assumed senior status on the Second Circuit in 1990. In 1995 he retired from the federal judiciary in order to travel abroad and he became Director of the USAID-funded Cambodian Court Training Project Cambodia.

Early years[edit]

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his mother, Mary Leora Bellinger Pierce, a classical pianist who accompanied Marian Anderson, died of pneumonia when he was five years old. Pierce was raised by his step-mother, Violet Abrahams Pierce, a registered nurse, and, until he was eleven, by his father, Harold E. Pierce Sr.. Lawrence and his older brother, Harold E. Pierce Jr., were separated and only reunited on holidays at the home of their paternal grandparents, Lillian Willets Pierce and Warren Wood Pierce.

Pierce has been married twice, first to Wilma Verenia Taylor, with whom he had three sons, Warren, Michael and Mark. Warren and Michael followed in their father's footsteps and studied law. Mark works overseas as a Regional Director with Plan International. Pierce has five granddaughters and one grandson. After his first wife's death, Pierce married Cynthia Straker, a former federal attorney and a professor at Howard University and St. John's University Law School. Cynthia died November 30, 2011. The couple resided in Sag Harbor, New York.

Genealogy search[edit]

Pierce devoted several years to researching his family history and discovered two black forebears who were brothers, Richard and Anthony Pierce, both seamen. They met two Dutch sisters who were indentured servants, Hannah and Marie Van Aca. The brothers bought their freedom and married them. They settled in Cumberland County, New Jersey. Richard and Hannah's son, Adam, served in the New Jersey Militia, which fought in the Revolutionary War at the Battles of Crosswicks and Monmouth. Based on his historical lineage, Pierce joined the S.A.R. and the Sons of the Revolution at Fraunces Tavern, where he served as a vice-president. Family members thereafter became members of the S.A.R. and D.A.R. For consecutive years, Ebony Magazine listed Pierce as one of the most influential African Americans in the United States.


Steward, William, A.M. and Steward, Theophilus G., Rev., D.D., "GOULDTOWN A Very Remarkable Settlement of Ancient Date," J.B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1913; Reprinted by Fairfield Twnshp. Bd. of Ed., Bridgeton, NJ, 1994.

Legal offices
Preceded by
William Herlands
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Shirley Kram
Preceded by
Murray Gurfein
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Succeeded by
Joseph McLaughlin