PHILIP ELMAN, who died on Tuesday at age 81, may be best remembered as a distinguished lawyer and brilliant Kennedy appointee to the Federal Trade Commission. During Mr. Elman's service on the FTC, the first federal effort to regulate tobacco was launched in 1964 -- the same day the surgeon general's report linking cigarettes to disease was released. Draft rules requiring warning labels for cigarette packs and ads were beaten back, however, by opposition from the White House and Congress and were supplanted by a watered-down congressional version. Mr. Elman later labeled it "one of the dirtiest pieces of legislation ever."
A former law professor at Georgetown University and the University of Hawaii, Philip Elman made his greatest contribution in the relatively unknown role he played in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation lawsuit. Mr. Elman was the Justice Department's principal author of the friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case. In tape-recorded interviews for the Columbia Oral History project, published in the Harvard Law Review in 1987, Mr. Elman revealed that he and Justice Felix Frankfurter had several private discussions about the case while he was preparing the Justice Department's brief in Brown. Those conversations between the judge and Mr. Elman, a former Frankfurter clerk and later editor of the justice's papers, helped shape the department's argument that the Supreme Court could end racial segregation in schools yet give the district courts time to work out the details. "In other words, `with all deliberate speed,' " said Mr. Elman.
"Now where did this idea come from? Not from Frankfurter; he never expressed anything along these lines. But it did grow out of my many conversations with him over a period of many months. He told me what he thought, what the other justices were telling him they thought. I knew from him what their positions were," said Mr. Elman.
"When that brief was filed, Frankfurter called me up and said, `Phil, I think you've rendered a real service to your country.' "