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Lowell Reed Jr., federal judge in Philadelphia for more than two decades, dies at 89

In 23 years on the federal court bench, Judge Reed issued 1,000 opinions. His rulings sometimes conflicted with his personal feelings on an issue, and he said so.

Lowell A Reed Jr.
Lowell A Reed Jr.Read moreCourtesy of the Historical Society of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Lowell A Reed Jr., 89, of Abington, a federal judge in Philadelphia for more than two decades, died Saturday, April 11, of complications from Parkinson’s disease at Rydal Park, a senior community in Montgomery County.

In 1988, Judge Reed was appointed to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President Ronald Reagan. He gladly answered the call “to be a civil servant and embraced this position of high honor with dignity and humility,” his family said in a statement.

He became a senior judge in 1999 and continued hearing cases until 2011, when he stepped down due to declining health.

During 23 years on the bench, he issued more than 1,000 opinions and presided over naturalization ceremonies.

Judge Reed’s colleagues said he stood out for his civility, fairness, and kindness.

“Judge Reed was a man of the highest integrity and character, and taught me so much," said Allen Applbaum, a New York lawyer who was his first law clerk, from 1988 to 1990. "It was an absolute honor to serve as his law clerk, and I will miss him terribly.”

In March 2007, Judge Reed struck down a law intended by federal officials to control internet pornography. The 1998 Child Online Protection Act would have required commercial web publishers to request proof of age from users so that children could not see material deemed harmful to minors.

Judge Reed ruled that the law was too broad and contrary to free-speech rights, and that software filters could be used to control children’s internet use.

“Despite my personal regret at having to set aside yet another attempt to protect our children from harmful material,” Judge Reed wrote, “perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will inherit, are chipped away in the name of their protection.”

Despite appeals, an injunction blocking the law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.

Judge Reed lectured at what is now the Temple University Beasley School of Law from 1966 to 1981. He was a member of the Philadelphia Bar Association and president of the Philadelphia Association of Defense Counsel.

He was honored with the A. Sherman Christiansen Award for being cofounder and first president of the Temple American Inn of Court, the first organization of its kind in Pennsylvania. The Inns of Court, which gives the award, are groups of judges, lawyers, law professors, and students who meet to discuss ethics and professionalism.

Born in West Chester, he moved with his parents to Kenosha, Wis., where he attended a one-room school until eighth grade. He graduated from Kenosha’s Mary D. Bradford High School in 1947.

He earned a business degree from the University of Wisconsin and had completed a year of law school when he was drafted during the Korean War. He served in naval intelligence from 1953 to 1957.

In November 1953, he met Diane Benson on a blind date. They married in January 1954.

Judge Reed moved to Abington and graduated from Temple’s law school in 1958. He clerked for Common Pleas Court Judge Ethan Allen Doty and then became a litigator for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

He joined the Philadelphia law firm of Rawle & Henderson, where he worked for 25 years and became a senior partner. He specialized in trying cases involving medical malpractice, occupational injury, and product liability.

In Abington, Judge Reed was active at Abington Presbyterian Church as a trustee and elder. He was president of the Rydal-Meadowbrook Civic Association and trustee of the Abington Health Foundation, and served on the Abington Board of School Directors.

He enjoyed sailing, music, travel, history, and vacations in Maine.

Besides his wife, he is survived by children Jeffrey Barton Reed, Lowell Andrew Reed, Diane Susan Marsh, and Christopher Benson Reed; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be held later.

Memorial contributions may be made to Temple University Beasley School of Law, Attn: Colleen A. Uhniat, Director of Development, 1719 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19122.