CHICAGO — Illinois appellate court justice Nathanial Howse may be one of the most humble justices you’ll ever meet.
Howse’s demeanor could be the result of his upbringing and the racism he’s faced for much of his 68 years.
I can recall when I first started practicing law, I’d go up and I was ‘hello your honor, I represent Mr. Jones,” Howse said. “They say ‘are you a lawyer?’ I’d say ‘yes,’… you sure you a lawyer? I said ‘yeah. I’m a lawyer, you can check.'”
It was not his first brush with discrimination, nor would it be his last.
Howse grew up in a small Tennessee town. Although the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education mad school desegregation the law of the land — Howse said someone forgot to tell Murfreesboro residents.
“There were certain ways you had to deal with people, white folks, because we were in the south in the late ’50s,” he said.
At a time when it was tough for Black men to get well-paying jobs, Justice Howse’s father, Nathanial Sr., worked as a janitor at a bomb factory — even though he attained a Master’s degree from Tennessee State.
He decided he wanted a better life for his family and moved to Chicago.
Howse said he got his gumption from his father.
“When he was 12 years old, he was riding his bike and a white man hit his bike and damaged his bike and uh, amazing thing, he actually went to a lawyer asking to sue the guy,” Howse said.
Nathanial Sr. eventually got his law degree from John Marshall Law School and that inspired his son to go into law.
“One of my fondest memories is on the weekend when my brother and I would be sitting across the table from each other doing our homework” Howse said. “I could look to the right, right into the dining room and there was my dad — he had his lawbooks on the table doing his homework.”
Justice Howse looks at his career in law as a service to others.
“We as judges when we’re put on the bench, we bring our experiences with us. And the way view the cases and the facts of the cases, we bring that viewpoint with us,” Howse said.
It’s something very apparent to those he works with.
“When I mention Justice Howse’s name, what comes to mind — scholarships, forethought, thoughtfulness and caring,” his clerk Jerrod Williams said. “Those are the words I would use to best describe Justice Howse.”
Howse’s love for the law, his fairness and service is what his Loyola law school classmate Jim Fraught remembers about him most.
“He was always available to his classmates, a real great part of memory as a law student,” Faught said.
On May 14, Howse had the honor of delivering the commencement speech at Loyola. He was only the sixth African American to do so in the school’s history.
“I was excited and honored to get that phone call,” he said. “It kind of came out of the blue”
When it came time to replace Justice Charles Freeman on the Illinois Supreme Court in 2020, Howse lost the nomination.
“So losing was bitter but the thing is I have the office that I have now and I’m happy here — doing the work that I’m doing,” he said.
And he is even happier being with his wife Patricia for the past 35 years. Howse is one of Chicago’s Very Own.