You probably don’t know who Alton Lemon is, but if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you should be familiar with the test named after him: the Lemon test, which the Supreme Court applies — sometimes — to determine when the Establishment Clause has been violated. Alton Lemon died a few weeks ago.
Alton T. Lemon, a civil rights activist whose objection to state aid to religious schools gave rise to a watershed 1971 Supreme Court decision, died on May 4 in Jenkintown, Pa. He was 84…Mr. Lemon was asked to join the suit challenging the Pennsylvania law after he criticized it at an A.C.L.U. meeting. The suit, conceived as a national test case, was filed in 1969 in federal court in Philadelphia by six religious, civil rights and educational groups along with Mr. Lemon and two other local taxpayers. The lawyers for the plaintiffs put Mr. Lemon’s name first in the caption of the case.
That was no accident, Professor Laycock said. The case was decided against the backdrop of resistance to the desegregation of public schools, and the choice of Mr. Lemon, who was black, underscored the point.
Mr. Lemon, for his part, said he was surprised to have lent his name to a leading piece of First Amendment jurisprudence. “I still don’t know why my name came out first on this case,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003.