Born:  August 3, 1933
Detroit, Michigan

Died: February 3, 2017
Washington, D.C.

Summary by
Steven A. Steinbach

Interviews conducted by
Steven A. Steinbach, Esq.

Bruce J. Terris, Esq.

Oral History Text & Documentation

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Oral History Summary


Bruce J. Terris, the firm’s founder, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. In 1957, Mr Terris joined the Department of Justice where he served in the Solicitor General’s Office.  During his career in the Solicitor General’s Office, Mr. Terris argued 16 Supreme Court cases on behalf of the government , including Wesberry v. Sanders (the Congressional redistricting case, which established the principal of one-man, one-vote),  Schneider v. Rusk, and Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez (the constitutionality of two federal statutes relating to the expatriation of citizens). He extensively reviewed approximately 70 Supreme Court briefs, including Abel v. United States (a Soviet espionage cases), Baker v. Carr, and the related 1964 reappointment cases. Mr. Terris also had the honor of preparing Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for his only appearance in the Supreme Court.

After leaving the Solicitor General’s Office, Mr. Terris was co-chairman of the Conference on Law and Poverty, which resulted in the formation of the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal services to the poor throughout the country. He was Assistant Director of the President’s Crime Commission where he supervised the Commission’s work on narcotics and police-community relations.

In 1968, he was co-founder of the Center for Law and Social Policy, one of the first public interest law firms, which represents consumers, the poor, and other usually unrepresented persons before federal administrative agencies and in the courts. With the Center, he represented Cesar Chavez and the California farm workers union in a suit to prevent Mexican agricultural workers form entering the United States, which was lost, 5-4, in the Supreme Court (Bustos v. Mitchell); represented physicians at D.C. General Hospital and the District of Columbia chapter of the Medical Committee on Human Rights in the legal actions to improve care at the hospital; represented the American Public Health Association and the National Council of Senior Citizens in a suit which resulted in an order requiring the Federal Drug Administration to speed procedures to get several thousand ineffective drugs off the market; and represented Ralph Nader in proceedings before the Federal Trade Commission.

In 1970, Mr Terris founded Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP, then known as the Law Offices of Bruce J. Terris. Mr. Terris founded the firm with the purpose of providing high-quality legal representation to individuals and groups the could not otherwise afford such services. The firm has provided these services for over 40 years in the areas of environmental, civil rights, and poverty law. Mr. Terris has continued his prior Supreme Court practice in Sierra Club v. Fri, 412 U.S. 541 (1973) (Supreme Court held, by affirming the court of appeals, 4-4, that the Clean Air Act prevented significant deterioration of air quality in clean air areas; this case led to the adoption of the significant deterioration provisions of the Clean Air Act), Sierra Club v. Morton, 427 U.S. 390 (1976) (Supreme Court held that the National Environmental Policy Act required preparation of a regional environmental impact statement for sub-regions of the Northern Great Plains but not the entire area), Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Envtl. Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167 (2000) (Clean Water Act citizen suit in which the Supreme Court found that the citizens had standing to pursue their claims regarding the unlawful discharge of mercury), and Harris v. The Florida Elections Canvassing Commission (challenge to Florida’s 2000 presidential elections results). He also has represented clients before administrative agencies and the lower courts, including in all but one court of appeals.

Mr. Terris was the commencement speaker and was made an honorary fellow of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1977. In 1981, the National Wildlife Federation awarded Mr. Terris its Conservation Law Award.

Mr. Terris received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hackensack River Keeper in 2005.

Courtesy of the Terris Family