Wayne G. Borah was a federal judge in New Orleans for more than 37 years. He served for almost 21 years as a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, followed by his elevation to a judgeship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On April 28, 1891, Judge Borah was born into a prominent and wealthy family in the small St. Mary Parish town of Baldwin, Louisiana. His uncle was longtime United States Senator William E. Borah, a 1936 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, who was known as the “Lion of Idaho.”
Judge Borah was educated at Philip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Washington & Lee University, and the University of Virginia, before receiving his law degree from Louisiana State University in 1915. After only two years of private law practice, he entered the United States Army during World War I and rose to the rank of captain of the infantry. After the war, he practiced law as a member of the New Orleans firm of Borah, Himel, Block & Borah. In 1923, he became an Assistant United States Attorney, then served as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana from 1925 until 1928.
A Republican, Judge Borah was nominated by President Calvin Coolidge on October 3, 1928 to a trial judge seat in the Eastern District. He was confirmed by the Senate and received his commission on December 17, 1928. His first five years as a trial judge were also the last five years of Prohibition, and his early docket in New Orleans included numerous Prohibition criminal cases. In 1941, he ruled that African-American teachers in the New Orleans public schools must be paid salaries equal to those of white teachers whose qualifications and experience were the same.
In 1949, he was elevated by President Harry Truman to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On the court of appeals, he was a member of panels that decided some of the most important civil rights cases in Louisiana history, including decisions holding state laws that excluded African-Americans from Louisiana State University and other measures designed to forestall school desegregation unconstitutional. Those decisions eventually led to the desegregation of New Orleans schools in the 1960s. Judge Borah assumed senior status on December 31, 1956, but continued to serve until his death on February 6, 1966.
Judge Borah was the patriarch of a socially prominent New Orleans family. He along with his wife, Elizabeth; son, William; and daughter, Virginia, maintained a country retreat in Lacombe, Louisiana, in addition to their primary residence in New Orleans. He was a member of the Boston Club, the Louisiana Club, the Southern Yacht Club and the Rex Carnival Organization, the “School of Design.” He reigned as Rex, King of Carnival, in New Orleans in 1946. His daughter, Virginia Borah Slaughter, was Rex’s Queen in 1961, and commemorated the 50-year anniversary of her reign at the organization’s 2011 ball. Judge Borah is interred in Lakelawn Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.
© United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana