Appellate Judges McKee and Nichols to Receive Lifetime Achievement Awards at Pennsylvania Bar Association Virtual Minority Attorney Conference in October

HARRISBURG (Sept. 9, 2021) —Immediate Past Chief Judge Theodore McKee, Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, and Judge Carolyn H. Nichols, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, will be honored with the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award during the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Virtual Minority Attorney Conference “Reclaiming Health, Wealth & Wisdom in the Post COVID-19 Era,” Oct. 7-8.

The A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes the accomplishments of a lawyer or judge who has demonstrated dedication to the legal profession and the minority community through civil, community or legal service. Higginbotham, who died in 1998, was a civic leader, author, academic and federal appeals court judge who fought tirelessly against racial discrimination.

Judge Theodore McKee

Judge McKee began his term as a leader of the Third Circuit in 2010 after joining the court in 1994 and is now the most senior active judge on the court. Prior to his service to the Third Circuit, Judge McKee served Philadelphians in many capacities, including as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, general counsel of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, deputy city solicitor for Philadelphia and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Judge McKee created the Third Circuit Task Force on Eyewitness Identifications and served as its co-chair. The purpose of the task force is to study and promote reliable practices for eyewitness identification and to deter suggestive identification procedures that raise the risk of wrongful convictions. He was also an advisor to the American Law Institute's project to revise the sentencing provisions of the Model Penal Code and a member of the Criminal Law Committee of the United States Judicial Conference. Most recently, Judge McKee was appointed to serve as a member of the National Academy of Science Committee on Law and Justice and is one of the inaugural members of the Council on Criminal Justice.

In addition to his many years of public service, he has supported bettering the community through his work with a number of nonprofit organizations devoted to helping direct urban youth away from crime and providing women offenders with drug rehabilitation, education and job counseling, including the Crisis Intervention Network, Concerned Black Men, New Directions for Women Inc. and the Crime Prevention Association. He is equally committed to improving the legal profession, having taught trial practice at Rutgers Law School and serving on the Board of Visitors of Temple University's Beasley School of Law.

Judge McKee received the Syracuse University College of Law Syracuse Law Honors Medal in recognition of his distinguished career and compassionate public and community service.

Judge McKee serves on several boards of directors, including the Vera Institute of Justice and Syracuse University, the National Constitution Center’s board of trustees and the Board of the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement.

Judge McKee received a B.A. from the State University of New York at Cortland in 1969 and a J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1975.

Judge Carolyn H. Nichols

Judge Nichols is currently serving a ten-year term in Superior Court that began in 2017. She conducts the appellate review of criminal, civil, family and orphan’s court cases. Previously, she was a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge and conducted felony jury trials in criminal court.

Her professional career spans more than 20 years of public service, including as legislative assistant to former Philadelphia Councilwoman Augusta Clarke, assistant city solicitor and deputy secretary of external affairs for the Mayor’s Office, and city deputy finance director managing the Minority Business Enterprise Council (MBEC).

Guided by the principles of diversity, inclusion and equity, Judge Nichols is committed to making equal justice for all, in the legal profession and the court system, a reality. Throughout her career, she has supported activities promoting positive reentry to prevent recidivism and participates in several community relations initiatives of the Southwest Police Division, such as Turn a New Corner to assist returning citizens gain employment, and Blades, Fades and Engage, a town hall-style dialogue in neighborhood barber shops with the local community and law enforcement.

In 2019, Judge Nichols co-founded the Southwest Division Youth Advisory Committee to facilitate positive activities for youth to help them gain confidence and purpose. In 2020, she participated in food and clothing distribution and neighborhood clean-up activities during the pandemic with grassroots organizations such as Unity in the Community and Ahari. In addition, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed her to the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency where she serves on the Adult Racial and Ethnic Disparity Subcommittee. Judge Nichols is also involved with the Criminal Justice Committee of the Pa. Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, and actively mentors and participates in peace building programs in public schools to prevent violence and to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition, she serves on the Diversity Advisory Panel of the Philadelphia Bar Association, Education First Compact, to improve public education in local schools and is a board member of Collective Climbing, a non-profit dedicated to fight poverty and to support the empowerment of graduating high school seniors in West Philadelphia.

Judge Nichols has received numerous awards in recognition of her work in the legal profession and the community. Professional honors include the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Champion of Social Justice and Equality Award from Rutgers Law School Black Law Students Association, the NBA/Judicial Council/Clifford Scott Green Chapter’s Pinnacle Award for her service to the Court of Common Pleas and the City of Philadelphia Office of Economic Opportunity’s Guardian of Economic Inclusion Award for her service as MBEC Director. Community service recognition includes the induction to the Overbrook High School Hall of Fame and being named by the Philadelphia Tribune as one of the City’s Most Influential African Americans in 2007 and 2008. 

Judge Nichols is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Minority Bar Committee, Montgomery Bar Association Diversity Committee and the Philadelphia Bar Association. She is also a member of the Judicial Council and the International Association of Women Judges.

Judge Nichols received a B.F.A., J.D. and LL.M. from Temple University. Additionally, she obtained an M.B.A. from Eastern University. 

The PBA Minority Attorney Conference where both judges will be honored will feature a keynote address from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Additional speakers and panel discussions will be made on topics to include COVID-19’s impact on communities of color, women of color in leadership, environmental issues affecting minority communities, business recovery from COVID-19, professional athletes and social/criminal justice reform, marijuana update, jury source lists and increasing representativeness, and harassment and discrimination in the practice of law. For more information about the conference and the award presentation, visit

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access of legal services; and serve the lawyer members of the state’s largest organized bar association.