His son Michael confirmed the death.
Pierce, a Republican who had been nominated to the federal courts by Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was only the third black judge to serve on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, after Thurgood Marshall and Amalya Lyle Kearse. He was the first black judge to be appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In 1975, writing for a three-judge appellate panel, Pierce rejected New York state’s claim that limiting access to contraceptives was a proper exercise of police powers to promote morality among minors. The law empowered only licensed pharmacists to sell nonprescription contraceptives and declared that they could not be advertised or openly displayed. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the judges’ ruling, voiding the law.
Explaining why access to contraceptives should not be constricted, Pierce wrote, “It is not beyond the power of this court to note that some young persons under the age of 16, including some in New York State, do engage in sexual intercourse and that the consequences of such activity is often venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy, or both.”
Pierce concurred in two appeals court rulings that the structure of New York City’s elected government violated the principle of one-person, one-vote and required an overhaul.
In 1982, the court affirmed a decision that electing two City Council members at-large from each of the five boroughs disproportionately empowered smaller boroughs.
Applying the same standard in 1987, the court declared that the Board of Estimate, the preeminent governing body, whose voting members included the borough presidents, was unconstitutional. The court pointed out that each borough president cast the same number of votes, even though the size of the boroughs’ populations varied widely. The board was subsequently abolished by a referendum that amended the City Charter.
In a complicated but consequential case in 1973, Pierce ruled that ownership shares of apartments in the state’s giant Co-op City housing project in the Bronx did not constitute securities under federal law because purchasers were obligated to resell their shares to the co-op at the original sale price.
In 1986, writing for a divided court, he upheld the securities fraud conviction of a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal who had traded stocks on the basis of his advance knowledge of information that was to appear in a column he wrote, “Heard on the Street.”
“Judge Pierce will be remembered as a fair, impartial and disciplined jurist, who weighed each decision carefully, on the merits, and applied the law meticulously,” said T. Christopher Donnelly, a former law clerk of Pierce’s. “On the bench and off the bench, he was thoughtful, dignified, respectful and kind.”
Lawrence Warren Pierce was born Dec. 31, 1924, in Philadelphia. His father, Harold E. Pierce Sr., was at various times a bank guard, a hospital orderly and a research assistant who left the family when Lawrence was 11. His mother, Mary Leora (Bellinger) Pierce, a pianist who was known to have accompanied Marian Anderson, died of pneumonia when he was 5.
He was raised by his stepmother, Violet (Abrahams) Pierce, a nurse, and his paternal grandparents.
An uncle, who was a lawyer and prosecutor, inspired him to study law, he said. After serving in the Army in Italy during World War II, he became in 1948 the first black student to graduate from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia (now St. Joseph’s University). He received a law degree from the Fordham University School of Law.
While he was never in private practice, Pierce was a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society and an assistant district attorney from 1954 to 1961 in Brooklyn, where his mentor was Assemblyman Bertram L. Baker, the borough’s first black state legislator.
He served as a deputy police commissioner for the department’s youth program from 1961 to 1963 and as director of the state Division for Youth until 1966 under Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
In 1966, appointed by the governor, Pierce became the founding chairman of the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission. Thousands of addicts were undergoing compulsory residential treatment when he left the commission in 1970.
Nixon nominated Pierce to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1971. He sat on the surveillance court from 1979 to 1981, the year he became the only black judge nominated by Reagan to the Court of Appeals. He assumed senior status in 1990 and retired in 1995.
He was married to Wilma (Taylor) Pierce, who died in 1978, and to Cynthia (Straker) Pierce, a former federal attorney and law school professor, who died in 2011. In addition to his son Michael, from his first marriage, he is survived by two other sons, Warren and Mark, also from his first marriage; five granddaughters; one grandson; and one great-granddaughter. All three sons are lawyers.
Pierce considered himself a patriot whose civil libertarianism dovetailed effortlessly with the Bill of Rights.
While he rejected the constitutionality of a New York law requiring that the American flag be displayed at assemblies and parades, he regularly participated in annual Flag Day ceremonies sponsored by the Sons of the Revolution at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. He qualified after discovering, as an amateur genealogist, that a forebear, Adam Pierce, the son of a black seaman and Dutch indentured servant, had served in the New Jersey Militia during the Revolutionary War.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .