Law Firm’s Diversity Fellowship Honors Alumni Caplin, Swanson

Mortimer Caplin and Gregory Swanson

Caplin & Drysdale’s Caplin-Swanson Diversity Fellowship honors Mortimer Caplin ’40 and Gregory H. Swanson ’51. Photos courtesy UVA Law Archives, the Swanson Family

March 2, 2021

A law firm’s new fellowship honoring two University of Virginia School of Law alumni was announced Feb. 19.

The Caplin-Swanson Diversity Fellowship, created by Caplin & Drysdale and given to law students who intern over the summer at the firm, honors Mortimer M. Caplin ’40, a UVA Law professor who served as IRS commissioner in the Kennedy administration, and Gregory H. Swanson ’51, UVA and the Law School’s first Black student. Caplin founded Caplin & Drysdale with Law School lecturer Douglas D. Drysdale ’53 in 1964.

“I know my father would be smiling from ear to ear to celebrate the values celebrated in this very important initiative,” Michael Caplin ’76 said at the virtual event announcing the fellowship.

With Caplin’s support, the Law School initially accepted Swanson’s application, but the Board of Visitors rejected it in July 1950, citing state laws affirming segregation. With the help of a legal team including Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill, Martin A. Martin and Spottswood Robinson of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a three-judge panel ruled in Swanson’s favor that September, and he registered in time for fall classes. Swanson completed a year of studies at the school, though never completed the thesis required to receive an LL.M. degree, which was common for master’s students at the time. Swanson earned his first law degree from Howard University.

Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, served as guest speaker at the event of the fellowship’s announcement. He shared details uncovered from research conducted by the late UVA Law professor J. Gordon Hylton ’77, as well as stories provided by the Swanson family.

Robert F. Kennedy ’51 befriended Swanson at the Law School, Forde-Mazrui noted.

“Bobby Kennedy and Swanson ran into each other in D.C. in probably 1961, and Bobby said, ‘Hey, my older brother just appointed Professor Caplin to be the IRS commissioner, and he’s looking for good tax lawyers,’” Forde-Mazrui recalled. “And that reconnected Swanson with both Bobby Kennedy and Mortimer Caplin, and that’s how Swanson wound up working at the IRS for the rest of his career.”

At the event, Caplin & Drysdale announced the first fellowship recipient: Brooke Radford, a second-year student at Howard University School of Law.

“This is a wonderful day, and I look forward to continuing the legacies [of Mortimer Caplin and Gregory Swanson] as we … work towards racial justice in our future,” Dean Risa Goluboff said at the event.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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