The creation and support of the District of Columbia’s public law school was the last great cause of this lifelong crusader for equal justice, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Without his personal lobbying efforts and the support of his family and friends both during and after his lifetime, the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law would not exist.
In 1993, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, by President William J. Clinton. A letter, written in support of this award, was hand-delivered to President Clinton on September 7, 1993. It eloquently describes Joseph Rauh; excerpts from that letter follow:
We are writing this letter to recommend that the Medal of Freedom be awarded posthumously to Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., the foremost civil rights and civil liberties lawyer of our time. Joe Rauh died on September 3, 1992, at the age of 81. For more than half a century, he devoted his life to the fulfillment of the Constitution’s great promise of equal justice and freedom for all. No one has ever fought harder or longer for the rights of minorities the disadvantaged and the underdog. Joe Rauh’s lifetime of work in the public interest began immediately following his graduation at the top of his class from Harvard Law School and his service as a Supreme Court clerk to Justices Cardozo and Frankfurter. Joe then joined the Roosevelt Administration, where he played an important role in America’s mobilizations at the beginning of World War II, until he joined the Army as a commissioned officer in the Pacific.
Following the War, Joe entered private law practice with the conviction that “the legal profession affords those who will take it, the opportunity to work in the public interest and the joy that comes with such work.” Promptly seizing that opportunity with both fists, Joe was elected as a delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, where he drafted the civil rights plank of the Party’s platform for Hubert Humphrey. The concepts embodied in that plank became the foundation for all of the human rights and equal protection laws that have since been enacted. From that time forward, Joe was on the front line as a leader in all of the historic battles to enact those laws and ensure their enforcement. With Clarence Mitchell, Joe represented the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in all the major congressional civil rights battles. He also served for years on the Board of the NAACP and as General Council to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Joe’s view of the legal profession never changed: that it should, “Place public interest above private gain”; that its tools should be used “for progress and equality above the defense of the status quo;” and that its guiding principle should be to “make the law a vehicle for righting social wrongs and not perpetuating them.” For Joe, the law was just such a calling. No one has ever held himself to a higher professional code or lived life more in keeping with it. Nor has any lawyer bestowed greater honor on his profession. Selflessly and wholeheartedly, Joe practiced law as an instrument of beneficent change, whether seeking justice for minorities, women, senior citizens and children; defending individual liberties against the encroachments of McCarthyism; fighting for union democracy or vindicating other infringements of basic human rights. In these historic battles, Joe appeared before the Supreme Court 16 times during the course of his 40 years of public interest law practice. But Joe did not limit his public interest work to court battles. He fought for equal justice in legislation, in the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominees, in labor unions and in the Democratic Party.
It is difficult to summarize a life so rich and varied in public-spirited accomplishment. Upon his death, the Senate and the House of Representatives paid special tribute to Joe. Joe was a model private citizen committed to a life of public service, a loving husband to Olie, his wife of 57 years, a terrific father and devoted grandfather and a great and compassionate friend. Our deep admiration and affection for this wonderful man continue on…”
The letter was signed by 25 prominent Americans including Justice William Brennan, Coretta Scott King, Vernon Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Frank Coffin, Judith Lichtman, Arthur Miller, Thomas Eagleton, Marian Wright Edelman, Peter Edelman, Don Edwards, John Kenneth Galbraith, Katharine Graham, Antonia Hernandez, Benjamin L. Hooks, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Robert R. Nathan, Ralph Neas, Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., Sen. Paul Simon, William Taylor, Roger Wilkins, Joseph Yablonski, Sidney Yates and Raul Yzaguirre.
In response to the above letter, on November 30, 1993, President Clinton awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, posthumously, to Joseph L. Rauh, Jr.
Each year since, UDC Law has celebrated Joe’s legacy during its Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture. In 1999, the School created the Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law in his honor.