William C. Pryor

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
William C. Pryor
Senior Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In office
November 2, 1988 – April 3, 2019
Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In office
Preceded byTheodore R. Newman, Jr.
Succeeded byJudith W. Rogers
Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In office
1979 – 1988[1]
Nominated byJimmy Carter
Preceded byJ. Walter Yeagley
Succeeded byMichael W. Farrell
Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
In office
Nominated byLyndon Johnson
Succeeded byFrank E. Schwelb
Personal details
Born1932 (age 87–88)[2]
Washington, D.C.
Elaine Victoria Bruce Pryor (m. 1956)
ChildrenWilliam B. Pryor, Stephen Pryor[3]
Alma materDartmouth College (B.A.)
Georgetown University Law Center (J.D.)
University of Virginia School of Law (LL.M.)

William C. Pryor (born 1932) was an associate judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court for the District of Columbia. He was the court's second African-American chief judge, serving from 1984 to 1988.

Early life and education[edit]

Pryor was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he attended the city's segregated public schools. He met his future wife Elaine at Banneker Junior High School in 1945. After a year of high school at Dunbar High School, Pryor attended boarding school at the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.[2]

As an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, Pryor was a pre-med student and played basketball. He graduated from college in 1954, the same year the Supreme Court held segregation in public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Pryor later recalled, "As much as anything, I think the Brown decision got me to start thinking about becoming a lawyer."[4]

To fulfill a ROTC obligation, Pryor first joined the army and was assigned to an ammunition company in France. During his service, in June 1955, he and Elaine were married in Paris.[citation needed]

After his tour of duty, Pryor attended Georgetown University Law Center and graduated in 1959 with good grades.


Pryor had trouble finding work as a black attorney in the private sector. Instead he went to work at the Justice Department, first at the Civil Division and then the United States Attorney's Office in D.C.

In 1968, after an interval as an attorney for the Bell Telephone Company, Pryor was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the District of Columbia Court of General Sessions, the predecessor to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. His first days on the bench were immediately after the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and some of the defendants who appeared before him were schoolmates of his and others from a similar background. Looking back on this time, Judge Pryor later reflected, "There had to be some kind of discipline, but at the same time, I did feel some empathy for the people brought before the court. This conflict had been percolating for a long time, and now it was coming into the open. In those cases where serious crimes had been committed I applied the appropriate legal standards, even though I did feel for the people involved. I felt it was important to make a clear distinction: rioting and looting was not an expression of civil rights, nor was it an appropriate form of protest, it was criminal conduct."[4]

After a decade on the trial court, Pryor was appointed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 1979. After serving as chief judge from 1984 to 1988, Pryor assumed senior status and continued to hear cases until 2019.[5] Since 1988, he has taught criminal law and procedure at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.[6]


  1. ^ Report of District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission, jnc.dc.gov; accessed April 22, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Inez Smith Reid, Historical Links: The Remarkable Legacy and Legal Journey of the Honorable Julia Cooper Mack, 8 U.D.C. L. Rev. 303, 329 (2004)
  3. ^ Judge William C. Pryor and Elaine Victoria Bruce Pryor Recognition Resolution of 2016, 64 D.C. Reg. 1285
  4. ^ a b Legends in the Law: William C. Pryor profile, Washington Lawyer, December/January 1995.
  5. ^ "Administrative Order No. 4-19" (PDF). www.dccourts.gov. April 3, 2019. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  6. ^ UDC 2017 Gala Honoree, law.udc.edu; accessed April 22, 2018.