Karl Racine delivers 28th Annual Rauh Lecture

Karl RacineAttorney General for the District of Columbia Karl A. Racine delivered the 2021 Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture in March, in which he focused on the office’s efforts in affordable housing, worker rights, juvenile justice and combating hate. Following his remarks, Racine took questions from the virtual audience of more than 100 attendees.

Dean Renée Hutchins introduced the Attorney General, who began his talk with heartfelt praise for the University of the District of Columbia and reminded the audience that his mother, who died in late 2020, taught at UDC for fifty years. Marie-Marcelle Buteau Racine began her teaching career at Federal City College, a predecessor school to UDC, and spent those decades teaching foreign language and serving as dean and department chair.

Racine then emphasized the importance of UDC and particularly the David A. Clarke School of Law in addressing the issues he discussed. He described the job of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the positive impact UDC Law students have in helping the office conduct its work. Racine’s talk centered on the public interest work being done by the Office of the Attorney General both locally and nationally.

He first described how the office focuses on the rights of tenants and fights for affordable housing. Washington has experienced a surge in new residents, Racine said, “but also the most intense most intense displacement of District residents, overwhelmingly Black, brown and lower income people” as a result of policies that favor development. Thus, “standing up for tenants is one area of the public interest that the Office of the Attorney General has pursued.”

Next, Racine turned to worker rights as another priority of the office. “We are in a terrible pandemic of wage theft and worker misclassification in the District,” he said. Construction is ubiquitous in D.C., which Racine argued is a clear sign there is wage theft occurring. He stressed that such practices more often affect immigrants and poor “hardworking people who are vulnerable and often don’t complain.”

Locally, juvenile justice has also been a key initiative in the office with an emphasis on “prosecuting kids without bringing them into the criminal justice system.” Racine said efforts to increase diversion and restorative justice have been successful in reducing recidivism in youth.

Racine closed his speech with some of the national issues in which his office has been instrumental, including ensuring people who need access to programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continue to receive those benefits and combating the increase in hate over the past several years. Racine said his office teamed up with 22 other attorney general offices to stop the previous administration from creating additional obstacles for people who receive benefits like SNAP. He moved next to the ways in which the office is working to eliminate the “outrageous,” “exponential” growth in hate. He said it’s important to call hate out and work to stop it with policies that recognize its complexity. “A lot of the hate we’re seeing has intersectionality to it,” he said, adding that much of it falls on women and using the Atlanta spa shooting in March as an example. “It’s so important we have a better tone at the top of the United States government,” Racine said, “we cannot foster, condone, encourage or defend hate groups.”

Racine thanked the virtual crowd before taking questions from the audience, which Dean Hutchins moderated. Topics included domestic terrorism and political rhetoric, the impact of systemic issues on the work of the office, the future of D.C. statehood, District responses to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the benefits of hiring from diverse law schools, ways in which D.C. residents and law schools can help with the programs at the Office of the Attorney General, plans for additional LGBTQ+ protections, a post-COVID safe return to work and progressive efforts in law enforcement. There was also a bit of speculation on Racine’s future with a question about whether he would run for office, to which Dean Hutchins counteroffered – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that he would always be welcome to teach at UDC Law. The Attorney General answered masterfully, leaving all doors open but not tipping his hand.

Watch the 2021 Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture in its entirety below or on YouTube, and learn more about past lecturers and Joseph L. Rauh Jr..

Richard Trumka at lectern

Richard L. Trumka talks history, future of unions and labor at 27th Annual Rauh Lecture

On Thursday, Oct. 24, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka delivered the 27th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture, linking the history and future of labor rights and reminding the audience of Rauh’s role in paving the way for union democracy. Trumka’s long-time mentor and friend Joseph “Chip” Yablonski introduced Trumka to the audience, describing the ties between Trumka, Rauh and Yablonski’s father, labor rights activist Joseph “Jock” Yablonski. UDC Law Dean Renée McDonald Hutchins provided opening and closing remarks.

Hutchins thanked the large crowd in the Moot Courtroom before providing a brief overview of the Rauh Lecture’s impact on the UDC Law community. In the audience were UDC Law faculty and students, University of the District of Columbia (UDC) Chief Academic Officer Lawrence Potter, deans and faculty from across UDC, members of the DC School of Law Foundation Board, the leadership of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and guests from the community. Hutchins acknowledged the guests before praising the students, calling them “my guiding star in terms of my leadership.” She then asked for a moment to recognize the passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings and a beloved member of the UDC Law community, Professor Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke.

Remembering Joe Rauh

Joseph Yablonski at lectern
Joseph “Chip” Yablonski introduces Richard L. Trumka at the 27th Annual Rauh Lecture at UDC Law Oct. 24, 2019. (Photo: Cheriss May)

In his introduction, Yablonski tied Trumka to his father and to Rauh, calling the latter “the greatest mentor of young lawyers – at least young liberal lawyers – in Washington in my lifetime.” Rauh represented Yablonski’s father when he challenged W.A. “Tony” Boyle for the presidency of United Mine Workers (UMWA) in 1969. Despite losing the election, the elder Yablonski and Joe Rauh fought for union democracy until Jock, his wife and his daughter were murdered on New Year’s Eve in 1969. Yablonski praised Rauh’s impact on the investigation and acknowledged his role in helping the family weather the tragedy. Rauh was instrumental in urging the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate the murders, for which Boyle ultimately served time several years later. “That night [of the murders] is sort of indelible to me in terms of Joe’s humanity and his strategic vision,” Yablonski told the crowd.

Rauh was also influential in reforms that led UMWA to adopt, according to Yablonski, “the most democratic union constitution in the United States, probably the world.” It was around then, as well, that Yablonski and Trumka’s paths crossed. Yablonski hired Trumka – who had been studying in the mines by the light of his helmet lamp through Penn State and Villanova Law – to what he called “probably the most ambitious and bright group of lawyers ever assembled for a labor union.”

Making the ultimate sacrifice for union members

After working for UMWA for a time, Trumka chose to fight the union dysfunction he had observed, first returning to the mines to reach the required number of service years to run for international union office. “You can have all kinds of measures about what a union leader ought to be,” Yablonski remarked, “but somebody that gives up writing briefs and arguing motions in an air-conditioned environment to go to work underground is somebody that is making the ultimate sacrifice for his union members.”

Yablonski concluded his introduction with a summary of Trumka’s leadership before acknowledging that “Joe Rauh would be very, very pleased at our speaker tonight,” calling him “the heir of Joe Rauh’s legacy.”

Creating value out of a hole in the ground

Richard L. Trumka at lectern
Richard L. Trumka shares stories of working in the mines, studying to prepare for eventual union leadership at the 27th Annual Rauh Lecture at UDC Law Oct. 24, 2019. (Photo: Cheriss May)

Trumka’s message centered on the importance of unions for today’s worker, connecting the history of union democracy to current issues of labor and democracy. Forming the basis of his career philosophy, Trumka noted that, “if you want to help workers, you first need to know and help people.” Trumka got to know those people and workers by going into the mines, and he took the lessons he learned with him throughout his career. “The education I got in the mines far exceeds anything I got at Penn State or Villanova,” Trumka said. “It’s a job that teaches you the nature of hard work, creating value out of a hole in the ground.”

While Trumka was working and studying in Pennsylvania, the United States faced a number of key moments in its history, chief among them the fight for civil rights. As the public sector grew, Trumka explained, so did the demand for better working conditions. “People were striking to be recognized and have the dignity of a human being,” he explained, as he recounted the events of the 1969 Black Lung Strike in West Virginia and the Memphis Sanitation Strike where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Returning to his own experience, Trumka detailed the dysfunction he observed in the unions. Even as the governor of West Virginia was signing the first piece of legislation to recognize black lung as an occupational hazard, mine workers were fighting for basic rights in the Boyle-led UMWA. Trumka described the difficulty workers faced in understanding their rights; it was not possible for workers to receive copies of union contracts or constitutions, for instance. “If you tried to file a grievance,” Trumka said, “they’d tell you that, ‘we’ll tell you when you have a grievance.’”

Your fight is my fight and my fight is your fight

Trumka then highlighted Rauh and Jock Yablonski’s attempts at battling labor union corruption in the late 1960s. Jock, Trumka noted, “was a symbol of everything we’d been fighting for – a union that has your back, true solidarity – where your fight is my fight and my fight is your fight. And thanks to this evening’s namesake, that all became clear again to us.”

After Jock’s death, Rauh continued to fight for union democracy and did so with more support from mineworkers, many of whom rallied behind the late Yablonski’s cause. About Rauh, Trumka added, “he was your guy. When Joe Rauh was your lawyer, he was your lawyer.” Trumka cited Yablonski and Rauh’s efforts as the catalyst for union momentum in the 1970s and its effect on his own career. Trumka became President of United Mine Workers in 1982, and he fondly recalled being sworn in by his father – “who had given his life to his union” and later died of black lung, “like every man in my family in that generation.”

Connecting those earlier efforts for union democracy to similar issues workers face today, Trumka said that, just as members nearly fifty years ago “stopped looking at their shoes,” today’s workers are also “looking our employers squarely in the eye and delivering a clear message: ‘Enough. Enough.’” He credited Jock Yablonski and Joseph Rauh for making that possible both then and now.

It is the “systems and institutions we’re supposed to rely on” that stand in the way of progress for workers today, he continued. Trumka argued those systems are rigged in favor of corporations and politicians and that democracy itself is in jeopardy. He cited a Harvard Law study that found only 30 percent of Millennials believe it is essential to live in a democracy and 25 percent even said democracy is a bad thing. Trumka contended this is a result of an economy and political system that does not work for them; “young people and workers in general are becoming more disillusioned as they bear the brunt of a broken economy.” Citing flat wages, subpar healthcare and disappearing pensions, Trumka said the threats to union democracy and democracy in general are “startling and heartbreaking” given the efforts of previous generations.

Times are tough, but so are working people

Audience members
Audience members listen to 27th Annual Rauh Lecture with AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka at UDC Law Oct. 24, 2019. (Photo: Cheriss May)

Despite sounding a mild alarm, Trumka offered hope to the audience, saying he has “never been more optimistic” in light of current collective actions – striking teachers in Chicago and auto workers in Michigan, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo – “where people are saying, ‘the only way we’re going to get this done is if we stand together, if we lock arms with the people standing next to us.” He stressed the impact of “ordinary people” effecting “extraordinary” change.

Reminding us that the role of unions is to provide better conditions for working people, Trumka urged the audience to turn to one another and use the momentum of current social action to keep fighting for “a voice and democracy on the job.” He added, “times are tough, but so are working people. We never give up without a fight.”

He closed his talk with advice for the law students in the room. Soon, he told them, “they will send you off into a complicated world with an extraordinary opportunity and responsibility to make a difference.” Then he asked them to consider how they would meet that challenge, urging them to work to advance fairness and freedom, to fight inequality. “Fifty years after Jock died and Joe helped all of us move on,” Trumka said in closing, “you can help strengthen democracy for generations to come. You can. And I truly hope that you will be lawyers for democracy and make Joe Rauh proud of you because he fought every day for that – and for the little guy.”

Trumka then took questions from the audience that built on some of the topics he had discussed and highlighted additional labor concerns like the growing roles of artificial intelligence and automation, the impact of social media on labor organizing and the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

About the Rauh Lecture

About Richard L. Trumka

View the 27th Annual Rauh Lecture in its entirety on MediaSite.

Group photo
AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, fourth from left, poses with Dan Edelman, second from left, and AFSCME Local leaders, from left, Robert Alston, President AFSCME Local 2921; Laverne Gooding-Jones, President AFSCME Local 2087; and Robert Hollingsworth, President AFSCME Local 2776 prior to the 27th Annual Rauh Lecture Oct. 24, 2019. (Photo: Cheriss May)

“Despair is the Luxury of the Privileged:” 26th Rauh Lecture by Vanita Gupta on Civil Rights Today

On Tuesday, Nov. 27, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Vanita Gupta delivered the twenty-sixth annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture to a rapt audience at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law).

Jonathan Smith and Vanita Gupta speaking
Jonathan Smith, left, and Rauh Lecturer Vanita Gupta, right, kick off the twenty-sixth annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture as the audience looks on.

The event reunited Gupta, who served as head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during one of the most consequential periods for the division, with her former colleague Jonathan Smith, ’84, who served as Chief of the Special Litigation Section under Gupta’s leadership.

The interview-style conversation showcased Gupta’s profound knowledge and experience as a leading-edge civil rights litigator over the course of the wide-ranging discussion on the present landscape for civil and human rights in America. Throughout the evening, Gupta offered penetrating insight into rapidly-changing areas of law ranging from asylum law and constitutional structures to state-level bail reform and voting rights initiatives. Drawing on her experience as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta weighed in on numerous, complex issues currently undergoing litigation and offered a hard-hitting critique of the Trump administration’s efforts to straitjacket the Department of Justice’s ability to investigate and prosecute civil rights violations and compromise the agency’s independence.

The Rauh Lecture: A Lasting Legacy

Chair Emeritus of the D.C. School of Law Foundation B. Michael Rauh opened the event with brief remarks on the history of the Foundation and the legacy of his late father Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., the liberal lion, civil liberties attorney, and founding member of the law school’s Board of Governors in whose honor the Rauh Lecture was established in 1993.

Rauh commended the selection of Gupta as this year’s Rauh Lecturer saying she “would lead the country in the good fight against” the current administration’s efforts to roll back civil and human rights protections, and he exhorted the many practicing lawyers and up-and-coming attorneys in the audience to stand ready to aggressively litigate for the protection of our democracy at her side.

Mike Rauh at the podium
B. Michael Rauh, D.C. School of Law Foundation Chair Emeritus. Lisa Helfert Photography.

“The Next Move”

UDC Law Acting Dean and Professor of Law John Brittain then took to the stage to introduce Gupta and Smith to the audience. Dean Brittain – who is himself a prominent civil rights litigator who has achieved many landmark victories for school desegregation during his decades-long career – celebrated Gupta’s remarkable perseverance and skillful leadership of the Civil Rights Division to secure groundbreaking victories for fair housing, voting rights, and police accountability in the federal courts despite “unremitting opposition” from a partisan Congress.

Dean Brittain at the podium
John Brittain, UDC Law Acting Dean and Professor of Law, introduces Rauh Lecturer Vanita Gupta and moderator Jonathan Smith to the audience. Lisa Helfert Photography.

Dean Brittain singled out as a high watermark of her tenure the division’s successful investigation and prosecution of police departments in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, and Chicago. The groundbreaking investigations produced consent decrees with historic limits on racially-motivated policing and civil rights abuses that remain in force to this day. He went on to praise Gupta for choosing to join The Leadership Conference after leaving the Justice Department, saying that “Instead of ‘cashing out’ on her long record of public service after leaving the Justice Department, she doubled down” by joining the historic organization, which has coordinated the lobbying efforts on behalf of every major civil rights law since its founding in 1950.

Noting that Gupta and Smith, as Chief of the Special Litigation Section, shared leadership on the Justice Department’s civil investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department following the death of Michael Brown, Dean Brittain highlighted that the living room-style conversation offered listeners a rare opportunity to see this historic Justice Department “team in action.” “It’s like we’re together in a conference room in the Department of Justice,” said Dean Brittain, “and we’re planning the next move.”

“Gamechanger:” voting rights and ballot access

Jonathan Smith, who worked under Gupta’s leadership of the Civil Rights Division, opened the conversation-style portion of the lecture with high praise for Gupta’s “extraordinary career.” Smith recounted Gupta’s multiple and precedent-setting court victories, including her landmark litigation challenging wrongful convictions in Texas as an entry-level attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and extending through her criminal justice reform work and litigation at the ACLU challenging the detention of immigrant families in for-profit facilities.

For her part, Gupta praised the “extraordinary legacy of public service” that the Rauh family represents and its continued support of UDC Law, saying “the civil rights community is deeply indebted to all of you.”

Vanita Gupta and Jonathan Smith speaking
Vanita Gupta, left, and Jonathan Smith, right. Lisa Helfert Photography.

With the stage set, the audience listened in rapt attention as Smith kicked off the discussion with a question about the 2018 midterm elections, asking Gupta what the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives means for the civil rights agenda. Gupta responded that the election was, first and foremost, a “huge win for democracy” as a practical matter, because it restored a much-needed check in Congress after two years of one-party rule.

Gupta also emphasized the importance for civil and human rights in America of the election of several “first-ever” officials to Congress, including the first Muslim and first Native American women elected to Congress, and the historic number of women representatives in the House. She hailed the result as “a massive win for civil and human rights” with far-reaching implications.

Gupta also stressed the wave of progressive state-level ballot initiatives approved by voters. Gupta singled out the Florida initiative restoring voting rights to 1.4 million people convicted of a felony as a “gamechanger,” noting that it is “the single largest expansion of the franchise since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in the ‘60s.”

In the wake of Charlottesville and constant attacks on immigrant families, Gupta described the November election results as a reaffirmation that “Americans will show up at the polls for the kind of country they want and the kind of country they deserve.”

“Despair is the luxury of the privileged”

The conversation shifted to the state of federal civil rights enforcement in the country, as Smith asked Gupta whether the new Congress can reverse the erosion of agency civil rights enforcement authority at not only the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division but also at civil rights sections across the government, including the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gupta responded with a laundry list of potential targets for congressional oversight in what she referred to as the administration’s “systematic effort” to dismantle civil rights enforcement authority encompassing “underenforcement at the Department of Education, the systematic withdrawal of guidances, the slowdown and lack of enforcement of laws that Congress enacted and gave to these federal agencies the mandate to enforce.” Expressing hope for improved oversight in the new Congress, Gupta stressed the important role the House can play in bringing the public’s attention to the “deeply important and historic role that the federal government has played in ensuring the protection of vulnerable and marginalized communities through its civil rights enforcement across agencies.”

Fair and independent courts are “fundamental” to democracy

Bringing the conversation around to the topic of the Senate’s role in confirming judicial nominees to the federal bench, and the Republican party’s continued control of the chamber, Smith asked Gupta what lessons she learned from The Leadership Conference’s effort to block the confirmation of now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other judicial nominees based on their records of opposition to civil rights and anti-discrimination measures.

Speaking to the history of The Leadership Conference, which she now leads, Gupta emphasized the importance of coalitional organizing to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary, which has for decades served as “a backstop against some of the most egregious excesses of the other two branches of government.”

In what she termed the “shocking” and aggressive reshaping of the federal courts in the past two years with the confirmation of “extremist nominees the likes of whom the Senate has never seen before,” Gupta signaled the dangerous and long-lasting consequences posed by these lifetime appointments, saying “my children, and probably their children, are now going to reap the seeds of what has been sown the last two years and unfortunately what is likely to continue the next two years.”

Gupta reflected that “the fight for fair courts has not been taken seriously enough” because “we often think about our issues in silos.” She emphasized how The Leadership Conference centers the importance of the foundational structures of democracy because “the fight to preserve the structures of our democracy – like the census, like the courts, like voting rights – are so crucial because everything else we care about, the courts directly have a say-so on.” The implications for civil rights litigators are dire, she added, with many civil rights litigators likely to avoid resorting to the Supreme Court to pursue alternative strategies for reform such as legislative advocacy and passage of state-level ballot initiatives.

“You can’t be a civil rights lawyer and have despair”

Predicting that the next two years will witness the Trump administration successfully filling all vacancies in the federal courts, Smith questioned “what, other than despair, can we do to change the dynamic and hold the Senate accountable.”

“You can’t be a civil rights lawyer and have despair,” Gupta said without missing a beat, adding that civil rights lawyers are almost by definition attorneys who battle against despair. “Hopelessness is an excuse for the privileged, so we don’t have the privilege of being hopeless. We must fight back.”

Gupta described the sweeping losses for civil and human rights witnessed in the past two years, saying “there is a still a deep and profound racism in this country, that has emboldened racism in the corridors of power,” but she rejected hopelessness and complacency outright. She identified the growing power of local and community-based groups organizing for progressive causes as reason for hope.

Sessions’ last act “another slap in the face of the Civil Rights Division”

Smith turned next to the “last act” of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue a memorandum that straightjackets the Civil Rights Division’s historic work on police reform by restricting the division’s ability to pursue consent decrees through investigation and prosecution of patterns and practices of police misconduct.

Calling the move “another slap in the face of the Civil Rights Division,” Gupta noted that the memorandum targets the very work that was the major focus of her tenure at the Justice Department. She argued forcefully that the memorandum flies in the face of the statutory mandate given to the agency by Congress in 1994. The memorandum restricts approval of such consent agreements to political appointees, requires evidence of violations beyond unconstitutional behavior, and imposes an arbitrary “sunset” date on such agreements in place of court oversight and proof that the police department or law enforcement agency has improved the very practices governed by the agreement.

Gupta criticized the policy as “demoralizing” to the Justice Department’s career attorneys and “a real blow to civil rights enforcement around the country.” Nevertheless, Gupta found reason for hope, citing that the existing consent decrees previously filed with Article III judges remain in force and cannot be unilaterally revoked. She also lifted up the “extraordinary work” of state attorneys general, local mayors, and police department officials who have stepped into the gap to locally negotiate the measures.

“Despite the gutting of the Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement, the good news is there still is a lot of momentum on criminal justice reform, and we need to build on the powerful advocacy locally and at the state level to continue forward,” recommended Gupta.

Ballot access, the census

With a nod to her earlier remarks on the importance of shoring up fundamental structures that preserve American democracy like the federal courts, Gupta turned next to the ongoing battle over ballot access and the census.

Gupta surveys the six ongoing court battles over the Trump administration’s proposed “citizenship question” in the coming census that threatens to systematically undercount communities of color as a result of the chilling effect the change would have on mixed-status families. Gupta described the efforts of The Leadership Conference to unwind the move at the policy level and to increase funding of local efforts to organize for an accurate census count. She exhorted the audience to connect up with The Leadership Conference to get plugged in to local efforts.

Smith’s next question asked Gupta what can be expected form state legislatures around the country with regard to gerrymandering and voter suppression. Citing several state-level ballot initiatives during the midterm election that took the politics out of redistricting with the establishment of independent commissions, Gupta called for similar efforts in other states. She went on to describe the “phenomenal work” of groups such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and The Leadership Conference’s All Voting is Local campaign, which are fighting voter suppression at the local level around the country and pushing for same-day registration and early voting initiatives, but she warned that full ballot access will only be secured with the restoration of the Voting Rights Act and other reforms, like automatic voter registration, same-day registration, and early voting.

With the event drawing to a close, Dean Brittain returned to the podium to preside over a lively question and answer session with the audience covering critical issues such as the nationwide spike in hate crimes, local opportunities in the District to combat voter suppression and protect the census, and the potential for further action to limit or remove judges confirmed to the federal bench.

Dean Brittain concluded the powerful dialogue and led the audience in a round of applause before presenting Gupta with the UDC Law Dean’s Cup in appreciation for her contribution to the law school. He praised Gupta’s “powerful remarks” and seemingly “encyclopedic knowledge” she showed on the issues, calling her “an inspiration.”

Vanita Gupta and Dean Brittain
UDC Law Acting Dean and Professor of Law John Brittain, right, awards Rauh Lecturer Vanita Gupta, left, the UDC Law Dean’s Cup. Lisa Helfert Photography.

Dean Brittain also lauded the “steadfast support of the law school and its critical mission” by Smith, who was UDC Law’s Associate Dean for Clinical Programs before transitioning to become the Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. A catered reception followed, courtesy of the D.C. School of Law Foundation, offering guests an opportunity to speak with Gupta and other members of the UDC Law community.

About Vanita Gupta

Vanita Gupta is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition. An experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work, prior to joining The Leadership Conference, Gupta served from 2014 to 2017 as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama. As the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the ACLU. She began her career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Gupta earned her J.D. from the New York University School of Law, where she has also taught a civil rights litigation clinic.

About the Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture

The annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture series serves as a dedicated forum at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) in which leading members of the bench or bar speak directly to the people of the District and the law school community on issues of vital importance to the practice of law in the public interest.

Established in 1993 in honor of the late civil liberties attorney and founding member of the law school Board of Governors Joe Rauh, some of the nation’s most respected civil rights and public interest figures, including then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, and many others, have delivered the Rauh Lecture. The Rauh Lecture, which is open to the public and free of charge, includes a catered reception at the conclusion of the event courtesy of the D.C. School of Law Foundation.

About the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law

The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) has the largest clinical requirement of any U.S. law school, providing more than 100,000 hours of legal services to thousands of D.C. residents each year through our nine legal clinics and robust experiential programs. UDC Law has garnered a No. 2 ranking by the National Law Journal (2018) for government and public interest job placement and No. 8 for Best Clinical Training Program by U.S. News & World Report (2019). For more information, please visit www.law.udc.edu.

Watch the lecture in its entirety on the UDC-TV YouTube channel here.


Stephen Bright

Stephen Bright talks death penalty, debtors’ prisons, mass incarceration at 25th Annual Rauh Lecture

Washington, DC—On Nov. 29, Stephen B. Bright delivered the 25th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture, titled “Race & Poverty in the Criminal Courts: The Death Penalty, Debtors’ Prisons, Mass Incarceration and Other Injustices,” to a packed house at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law.

UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick introduced Bright to the audience after brief welcoming remarks from DC School of Law Foundation Chair B. Michael Rauh and UDC President Ronald Mason. The interview-style conversation was facilitated by Wade Henderson, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law at UDC Law and Senior Advisor to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Bright and Henderson covered a range of criminal justice issues, including the impact of fines on citizens living in poverty, the arbitrary nature of death penalty application, and the trouble with attempting to predict future behavior.

“Basically debtors’ prisons”

Bright explained municipal courts are often “not about law enforcement” but “about revenue generation.” He provided examples of how seemingly small fines can add up over time, compounding the legal problems faced by people living in poverty. For someone with no income, he went on, even a fine of a few hundred dollars can be devastating. “It’s basically debtors’ prison,” Bright said, “Everything costs in the criminal justice system today.”

Before pivoting to the death penalty, Henderson and Bright outlined some measures that might improve the criminal justice system overall. Bright described a need to improve the quality of court-appointed representation, Henderson suggested better training of law enforcement personnel to help avoid implicit bias, and both men urged electing better representatives.

Henderson recalled September’s The Long Game: Why the 1957 Civil Rights Act Still Matters Today at UDC Law, at which Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, told the audience of his organization’s plans to remain involved in the election of prosecutors. In response, Bright said, “95% of elected top prosecutors are white. That’s remarkable in a court system that’s dealing with so many people of color.”

“The Capital of Capital Punishment”

In Harris County, Texas, 127 people who have been sentenced to death have been executed. Bright said, “Harris County is the capital of capital punishment,” before putting the numbers into perspective. “That’s more than any state except Texas itself,” which, as of a Nov. 9 update to the Death Penalty Information Center, has executed 545 people, followed by Virginia with 113 and Oklahoma with 112 (Bright cited numbers from before the recent update). Bright explained that, after electing three women in succession, including current District Attorney Kim Ogg, Harris County death penalty numbers are down “dramatically,” a trend he attributes to a prosecution that better represents the diversity of the county’s population.

“Closest we get to witchcraft”

In April, Bright argued before the Supreme Court in McWilliams v. Dunn that an indigent defendant is entitled to access to an independent expert witness. In June, the Court narrowly decided for the defense, but Bright said a case like this “shows what Congress and the courts are doing to make life difficult if not impossible” for defendants who are poor. “So much of what’s going on in these cases is about procedure,” Bright said, “It’s all about ways to trip people up to keep them out of court.”

Furthermore, Bright explained, the question of whether someone might be a future danger to society is “as close as we get in court to practicing witchcraft.”

Henderson remarked, “It’s a strange new world.”

“As arbitrary as getting struck by lightning”

Henderson then turned the conversation to the inherent racial bias in application of the death penalty, citing Justice Potter Stewart’s famous proclamation from Furman v. Georgia that “getting the death penalty is as arbitrary as getting struck by lightning.”

This analogy, Bright declared, illuminated not just the arbitrary nature of the death penalty but the tendency for its application to disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. “The reason for all the problems with the death penalty was racist, white supremacy” and “the terrible way in which poor people are dealt with in this system.”

“A matter of race and place”

The death penalty, then, according to Bright’s experience is a “matter of race and place.” To demonstrate his point, he offered the startling statistic that, of over 3,000 counties in the United States, only 30 jurisdictions account for the majority of death sentences. He reiterated much hinges on the prosecutor, a reminder to the audience of the importance of paying attention to elections.

“Withering on the vine”

Before opening the floor for questions, Bright discussed the trend toward fewer death sentences, some considerations about death penalty methods, and the legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Court ruled defendants have a constitutional right to an attorney at the state level.

On how often the death penalty is applied, Bright shed some light on a trend away from its application, going from 315 sentences in 1995 to only 31 last year. “There is some chance,” he said, “it’s kind of going to wither on the vine.”

Henderson asked if the decision in Gideon is being upheld, to which Bright lamented, “I really wish I could say ‘yes,’ but the answer is ‘no.’” Gideon, he went on, was an unfunded mandate, but the decision did not indicate how it would be paid for. “Why would the state that wants to convict, imprison, and kill a person pay to defeat that very purpose?”

Regarding the use of lethal injection and other methods to administer the death penalty, Bright discussed a return to firing squads, which he indicated would likely “be the end of the death penalty.” In sum, he reminded the audience, “You are killing people; let’s be honest about what we’re doing here.”

Questions, asked by UDC Law students, UDC faculty, attorneys, and community members, ranged from what law students can do to address the issues presented in the lecture to historical developments that have led to current trends to what lessons the United States can provide to other countries in reforming their own criminal justice systems.

The lecture concluded with Dean Broderick presenting Stephen B. Bright with the Dean’s Cup, given each year to the Rauh Lecturer. A reception followed, offering guests an opportunity to speak with Bright and other members of the UDC Law community.

About Stephen B. Bright

Stephen B. Bright has tried capital cases before juries in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, and argued and won four capital cases before the Supreme Court. He spent 35 years with the Southern Center for Human Rights, first as director and then as president and senior counsel. He is now Professor of Practice at the Georgia State College of Law and teaches at the law schools at Yale and Georgetown. Subjects of his litigation, teaching and writing include capital punishment, legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, conditions and practices in prisons and jails, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, judicial independence and sentencing. He received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998. The Daily Law Report, Georgia’s legal newspaper, named him “Newsmaker of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia and “Lawyer of the Year” in 2017 for his success in the Supreme Court and pursuit of justice. His curriculum vitae and publications are available at law.yale.edu/stephen-b-bright.

The Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture

Each year, UDC Law invites one or more leading members of the bench or the bar to address the community on a law-related topic of interest. Some of the nation’s most respected civil rights and public interest, public policy or public service attorneys, as well as the Attorney General and two sitting US Supreme Court Justices have honored us with their participation.

The Rauh Lecture is always open to the public, free of charge, and followed by a reception.

About Joseph L. Rauh, Jr.

Joe Rauh envisioned a law school that would function as a training ground for public interest lawyers: a school where law students could learn basic skills and represent the underrepresented at the same time, a school that made dedication to public service a criterion for admission and commitment to public service a life-long responsibility. The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law is Joe Rauh’s dream come true. A founding member of the Law School’s Board of Governors, Rauh remained one of its staunchest supporters until his last hours with us.

Watch the lecture in its entirety on the UDC Law Facebook page or below from Youtube.

Collage of Ronald Mason, Jr., Shelley Broderick, B. Michael Rauh, and Wade Hendersoncrowd to the 25th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture
Clockwise from top left: Ronald Mason, Jr., Shelley Broderick, B. Michael Rauh, and Wade Henderson welcomed the crowd to the 25th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture

Bright and Henderson
Bright and Henderson

Wade Henderson
Wade Henderson

Dean Broderick and Stephen Bright
Dean Broderick presented Bright with the Dean’s Cup

Audience listening to Stephen Bright

Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy

Bryan Stevenson Delivers Captivating, Inspiring Rauh Lecture

In its 23rd year, the annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture was nothing short of enthralling.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, delivered a motivating and inspiring speech to a crowded auditorium at the University of the District of Columbia.

Stevenson detailed some of his experiences representing death row inmates in the south, his outlook for our society and what we can do to promote justice. He recounts some of this in his New York Times bestselling book Just Mercy.

View pictures from the event on Facebook.

Wade Henderson, Shelley Broderick, Tom Perez and Mike Rauh

Tom Perez delivers 22nd Annual Rauh Lecture

Tom PerezThe 22nd Annual Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture was delivered on April 4, 2014, by U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. After a welcome from DC School of Law Foundation Board Chair Mike Rauh and introduction of the Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law, Wade Henderson, by Dean Shelley Broderick, Henderson introduced The Secretary, who spoke for nearly an hour on a range of major issues and his deep connection to the School of Law and its mission.

Below are a few snippets from his remarks that are most germane to the School of Law itself. But the entire talk was well worth listening to – it was a substantive and powerful Rauh Lecture.

“I have a wonderful connection to this school, and a wonderful affection for this School. … I started working in the Civil Rights division in the late 80s and the law school that had the greatest representation of attorneys in the section where I worked was then called Antioch School of Law but we had a bunch of folks who were people who trained me on how to be a lawyer and to this day I have great gratitude for how they trained me and how they mentored me. And I remember when I became Clinic Director at Maryland Law School in 2001—and Maryland has some pretty good clinics—I was seeking guidance on what to do, who do I call? This Tulman guy, who’s got game. You know? And I get back to the Civil Rights Division and I’m thinking about people to recruit in 2010 and who was one of the first people I tried to steal? This guy named Jonathan Smith—I don’t know if you heard from him earlier today? He doesn’t know a lot about this stuff, but he fakes it. (laughter) Jonathan is one of the most brilliant lawyers I have met. I had the privilege of serving on his board when he was the head of the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, and, again, the footprint of this law school—you said you were small, Dean, but if you are small, dean, you punch above your weight. And you’re always punching on behalf of people who need your help and that is why it will always be a pleasure and an honor…

“And to the students who are here. You’re here because you made some decisions that you don’t want to be just any old lawyer. You want to be a lawyer who when Judgment Day comes, you can look yourself in the eye and say, ‘I led a life in which I tried to build a better community.’ I used to give my students the following assignment on the second to last day of class. And that was, I used to ask them to write their obituary. And the purpose of that exercise, and I would do it on the second to last day because it’s been my experience in my career in law, that all too many lawyers have disproportionate mental health bills because they fail to take that step back and ask that question of ‘What am I doing here on the planet Earth?’ and ‘What do I want my legacy to be?’

“And lawyers as a bunch are disproportionately risk-averse. I’ve taken a number of risks in my life and I’m kind of an oddball because the older I get the more willing I get to take educated risks. Because I’ve led a charmed life, I’ve had the privilege of doing immigrant rights work, labor rights work, civil rights work, and every day I woken up I have loved my job and I’ve challenged my students every day to find your passion and follow your passion—because lawyers don’t do enough of that.

“Fortunately, at the DC School of Law, you do it, and that’s why people like Jonathan end up being leaders around our community here in DC and in Maryland and in his current job, across the nation. And so, I hope you’ll spend some time and do that. And share it with your professor, and put it in your drawer, and when you’re having a bad day read it and remind yourself why you’re on the planet Earth. I know I did that and that was helpful, especially on those periodic days where you did wonder.”

The Secretary went to speak in detail about the legacy of Dr. King on the anniversary of his death, about health care, voting rights, a variety of employment-related issues and poverty. He ended his talk with a return to his kind words for the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law:

“We have some democracy maintenance work to do my friends. And you are at the forefront of it. You do that work here at UDC. I love coming here because you all understand that this is a mission-driven institution. We need your help in that! … Fighting poverty will take persistence, fighting poverty will take partnership, fighting poverty will take leadership, fighting poverty will take law schools, like this great law school continuing to be at the forefront of these issues. And I am confident that you will, I am confident that we will succeed.”

Senator Warren with UDC Law students

Senator Elizabeth Warren: 21st Rauh Lecturer

On October 2, 2013, in the UDC Theater of the Arts, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivered 21st Annual Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture to a crowd of over 500 students, staff, faculty alumni and friends of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law.

Senator Warren – often cited as a potential 2016 presidential candidate by liberal and progressive Democrats – is a fearless consumer advocate who has made her life’s work the fight for middle and working class families and is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts on bankruptcy and the financial pressures facing families. The Boston Globe has called her “the plainspoken voice of people getting crushed by so many predatory lenders and under regulated banks.” She is widely credited for the original thinking, political courage, and relentless persistence that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

After a welcomes by School of Law Foundation Chair Mike Rauh, UDC President Lyons, and School of Law Dean Shelley Broderick, Senator Warren was introduced by Wade Henderson, the School of Law’s Joseph L. Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law and, by day, the President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

After receiving a standing ovation, Senator Warren prefaced her remarks with a preamble referencing the government shutdown and other current political events. She then homed in on her main topic – President Obama’s three recent nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is often considered the “Second Highest Court in America” because of its jurisdiction over numerous federal agency cases. After citing studies revealing the systemic bias towards the nomination of federal judges who have served the corporate world, the Senator described the President’s choices in some detail – not only for their legal acumen, but also due to the diversity of experience they would bring to the bench.

The Rauh Lecture is named for the late, great civil rights and civil liberties lawyer Joe Rauh, who was a founding member of the School of Law’s Board of Governors. His son, Michael Rauh, has served as School of Law Foundation Board Chair person since the mid ‘90s. Previous Rauh Lecturers have included Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Attorney General Eric Holder, Senator Pat Leahy, Congressmen John Lewis and Barney Frank, Vernon Jordan, Theodore Shaw, and other leading attorneys.

Justice Sotomayor with UDC law students

Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the 20th Annual Rauh Lecture

On April 2, the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, delivered the 20th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture, A Conversation with Justice Sotomayor. Dr. Allen L. Sessoms, President of the University of the District of Columbia, Michael Rauh, Chair of the DC School of Law Foundation, and UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick gave welcoming remarks. A short video of Justice Sotomayor presiding over a trial between two Muppets on Sesame Street started the program which was attended by 1400 students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the School of Law.

In lieu of a formal lecture, Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law at UDC Law, interviewed Justice Sotomayor. Professor Henderson inquired about her years as a prosecutor, U.S. District Court Judge, Judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor also described her family and childhood in the Bronx, and what inspired her to become a lawyer and prosecutor. After the conversation, Dean Broderick presented the Justice with the Dean’s Cup.

When Justice Sotomayor first appeared on stage, she was greeted by a spontaneous standing ovation by the joyful crowd. After the formal program, the Justice literally kicked off her shoes and climbed into the bleachers in a dozen different locations to greet and to take photographs with those in attendance. The crowd was amazed and thrilled with her warm and wonderful return of their support and affection!

Justice Sotomayor posing with students

19th Rauh Lecture with Harold Koh, Legal Adviser of the Department of State

Harold KohOn November 22nd, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law held its 19th annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture. This year’s featured speaker was Harold Hongju Koh, the 22nd Legal Adviser to the United States Department of State, a former Yale Law Dean, and Martin R. Flug ’55 Professor of International Law at Yale Law School. A leading expert on public and private international law, national security law, and human rights, Mr. Koh’s lecture focused on international lawyering for a Smart Power world. Chair of the DC School of Law Foundation B. Michael Rauh, UDC President Dr. Allen L. Sessoms, and UDC Law Dean Katherine S. Broderick gave brief statements before the lecture, and Wade Henderson, President & CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law, introduced Mr. Koh.

Mr. Koh talked about the challenges of maintaining a balance between defining the U.S. Department of State’s roles, strategy, and tactical approach, and as Legal Adviser, doing his job as counselor, conscience, defender and spokesperson of a country at war. Mr. Koh explained that the Smart Power approach would allow the U.S. to respond to opportunities and not just threats, find a domestic and international nexus, find new ways to lead, partner with different players, apply “Soft Power” tools that emphasize cooperation over confrontation, and lastly, preserve core American values. An “Obama-Clinton” doctrine has emerged from the Smart Power approach that relies on principled engagement, diplomacy as a critical element of Smart Power, strategic multilateralism, and following rules of domestic and international law. Mr. Koh gave the examples of the “Arab Spring,” Libya, and the Iraqi and Afghan transitions as illustrations of this new doctrine and the application of Smart Power. Mr. Koh closed by talking about how the Smart Power Realities of the 21st century require a lawyering approach that both adapts 20th century laws to 21st century realities and stays true to American principles.

US Attorney General Cites UDC Law as Model for Legal Education

“I agree with the assertion by UDC’s leadership that all publicly funded law schools should look to the Clarke School of Law for inspiration and consider a similar service requirement. That would be a profound and powerful change. And it would lead, no doubt, to a more just nation and world.”
 – U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder

Eric HolderOn June 17th, United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder delivered the 18th Annual Joseph L. Rauh Lecture to more than 500 Washingtonians including judges, prominent attorneys, civic leaders, law students, staff and alumni of the University and the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law.  In his remarks, the Attorney General heralded the School of Law as a model for other law school nationwide and pledged to sign and deliver a petition to President Obama urging him to speak at the School of Law’s next Honors Convocation.

Master of Ceremonies and DC School of Law Foundation Chair, Mike Rauh, son of the late, great civil rights lawyer Joe Rauh, for whom the lecture series is named, greeted the crowd and welcomed fifty members of the School of Law’s entering class who rose amid applause.  Mr. Rauh introduced Dean Shelley Broderick who told the story of Joe Rauh’s last evening 18 years ago, during which he attended a reception for the incoming class, grilling each member on their public-interest intentions and proudly  pronounced them “a bunch of fighters!” 

Mike Rauh then brought Law Review Editor Evan Mascagni to the podium to announce the student petition drive to bring President Obama to UDC. 

Mr. Rauh then welcomed UDC President Dr. Allen Sessoms to the stage, who made his own brief welcoming remarks. 

Next, UDC Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, introduced the Attorney General as being not only the first African American Attorney General, but “the most well qualified U. S. Attorney General in history” by virtue of his long and varied career in public service, on the bench, and in the private bar.

Mr. Henderson described the Attorney General’s legal career and the reasons he enjoyed strong support from the civil rights community during his confirmation hearings.  He then enumerated three examples from Mr. Holder’s first year in office that illustrate that this support was warranted:  the AG’s vocal support of expanding hate crime legislation; his support of sentencing parity between powder and crack cocaine and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences;  and his current investigation into federal use of race in federal law enforcement. 

The Attorney General appeared relaxed and in good humor as he began his remarks, which drew their theme from former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s renowned “Day of Affirmation” speech about Apartheid South Africa, now the site of the multi-cultural World Cup competition.  Mr. Holder quoted RFK who famously said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,” whose ripples can “build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

“So, what exactly are these tiny ripples? Where do we find them? And how do we initiate them? I have grappled with such questions throughout my entire career. And I expect many of you struggle with them, as well.”

After describing a number of examples of efforts that generated such ripples, the Attorney General turned his focus to the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law itself.  “Seven hundred hours. That’s incredible,”  he said, speaking of the School of Law’s clinical service requirement for each law student.  “Imagine, for a moment, if every law student in the country were to give back, as UDC students do, while earning their degrees. Since there are approximately 150,000 law students at any one time in this country, that would mean about 100 million hours of clinical services combined – enough to turn tens of thousands of ripples of hope into that “current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

During the Attorney General’s talk, questions were gathered from members of the audience, and passed to Mr. Henderson who chose several from among the many dozens put forward.  His first question was whether the Attorney General would sign the student petition to urge the President to speak at UDC.  Mr. Holder laughed and asserted that that was not on a card!  But then, pausing, he offered to not only sign,but to personally deliver the petition to the President, a commitment which elicited a substantial cheer from the crowd.  

Other questions included DC Voting Rights, support for which the Attorney General confirmed as a “moral right. ”  In response to a question, he made his own support for gay marriage rights clear, but explained his job is to enforce rather than to make the law.  Regarding BP, he disagreed with the notion that the $20 billion fund was the result of a “shake down,” and described it as the company acknowledging and living up to its responsibility. With regard to Guantanamo, he reaffirmed his belief that waterboarding is torture, and that torture must not be allowed. He described current work to review memoranda and other evidence to determine what kind of questioning had actually taken place.  Regarding the Mirandizing of terrorism suspects, he described the Department of Justice’s efforts to create a policy that balances protection of civil liberties with protection of health and safety and also the degree to which deference must be allowed to law enforcement officials on the scene.  And, finally, as to the question of “Lakers or Celtics” he reiterated his longstanding support for Los Angeles, while allowing that both his fervor for them, as well as his hatred for the Celtics has both waned over the years since the heyday of the Magic v. Bird rivalry.   Moments later, when thanking the Attorney General and awarding him with the Dean’s Cup, the Dean could not resist rallying the Celtics fans in the crowd with a “Go Celtics” cry!

Remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder at the 18th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture

WASHINGTON, June 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The following remarks as prepared for delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder were released today by the U.S. Department of Justice:

Thank you, Wade [Henderson]. It’s an honor to join you and to thank you for your leadership and service here at UDC and across this city. Not only is Wade a great professor, he is also an outstanding ambassador for the David A. Clarke School of Law. And he never misses an opportunity to champion this school’s unique and provocative approach to legal education. 

Of course, much of the credit goes to Dean Broderick and her team of administrators, faculty, and staff. I want to thank you all for inviting me to join you today. I’m especially grateful for the chance to commend the Clarke Law School’s extraordinary example of excellence, service, and innovation – an example that inspires the legal community in this city and far beyond.

Tonight also provides a rare and welcome opportunity to do something every attorney, and certainly any Attorney General, regularly should – to reflect on the systemic challenges facing our justice system and to consider the future of legal education in this country. In the spirit of Joseph Rauh, the visionary namesake of this lecture series, that’s exactly what tonight is all about: taking a step back from what we do and what we study to consider what we owe – to our country and to our community.

Now, where do we begin? To me, it seems appropriate to start by thinking about the one event that’s on a lot of our minds right now – the World Cup. I know that many of you have already cleared your schedules for 10am tomorrow, when the U.S. takes on Slovenia. But more importantly we should also take time to think about where this historic game will be played.

As all of you know, and some remember well, South Africa was – at one time – the last place on Earth where you could imagine people of all cultures coming together. In the era of Apartheid, South Africa’s laws supported a system, not of justice but of injustice. Its legal framework enshrined bigotry, enforced discrimination, and spread hate from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Robben Island. This system of oppression enraged citizens within and beyond South Africa. It also motivated American law students like me, who spent a lot of time away from our studies to call for reform from half way across the world.

For my most famous predecessor, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the laws of Apartheid, and of any system of segregation, were particularly offensive. In fact, forty-four years ago this month, he traveled to South Africa to deliver a speech at the University of Cape Town – just minutes from the stadium where many World Cup games are being played. In his now-famous “Day of Affirmation” address, Attorney General Kennedy spoke about the right to justice, the power of action, and the possibilities born from hope. As he said to all those listening in South Africa, and all those watching around the world, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.

“Those ripples,” Robert Kennedy assured us, can “build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Those were beautiful words, but they were more than rhetoric. They were a call to every member of the global community to embrace the idea – indeed the truth – that, more than any policy or program, any controversy or case, justice begins with individual acts. And it is from many acts of courage, service, and great sacrifice that a nation once known for division is now celebrated and admired around the globe for its method to deal with its past and its power to unite.

So, what exactly are these tiny ripples? Where do we find them? And how do we initiate them? I have grappled with such questions throughout my entire career. And I expect many of you struggle with them, as well.

But I have also learned a few things. And I have seen these so-called “ripples,” time and time again, during a life spent studying and practicing law – first, as a law student, when I spent a summer interning at the N.A.A.C.P.’s Legal Defense Fund, working on some of the civil rights cases of the day. I saw them again after graduation, when I came to work in the Justice Department’s new Public Integrity Section.

That, however, was only the start. As a judge in D.C. Superior Court, I saw ripples of hope in the heroic stories of law enforcement officials who stood up for public safety. I saw them in the uplifting examples of criminals reformed, after rehabilitation, and turned into productive citizens. As U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, I saw hope in the activism of community members who came together in times of crisis to safeguard their neighborhoods and help to prevent, not only punish, violence. And when I served as Deputy Attorney General and was asked by President Clinton to lead Lawyers for One America, I saw those ripples of hope in the attorneys, all across this nation, who banded together for the shared purpose of addressing and eliminating racial inequality in our legal system.

Over many years, in many different ways, I have learned that ripples of hope – and rooting out injustice one individual action at a time – can take many forms. There is no one way to fight for what’s right. I have also learned that achieving justice, like accomplishing anything worthwhile, does not come easily. But the path to justice always starts with a single action – and in 2010 it must start with you.

Of course, many of you already know this. The students here, in the tradition of the Clarke School of Law, have already been working to fulfill the promise of justice –long before studying for the Bar Exam. Although this is a small school – with only 300 students – you annually provide more than 85,000 hours of public service to low-income community members. And each UDC law student is required to provide at least 700 hours of clinical service – to helpless tenants, vulnerable seniors, suffering HIV/AIDS patients, needy children, community groups, and businesses.

Seven hundred hours. That’s incredible. Imagine, for a moment, if every law student in the country were to give back, as UDC students do, while earning their degrees. Since there are approximately 150,000 law students at any one time in this country, that would mean about 100 million hours of clinical services combined – enough to turn tens of thousands of ripples of hope into that “current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” I hope that, now, you can start to see my vision, my hope.

Your responsibility to serve others has proven to be not only an effective means of providing your community with much-needed legal assistance, but also an effective means of learning the law. Joseph Rauh predicted it would be – and your example shows that he was right. Today, we can all be encouraged that law schools across the country are taking steps to promote public service and to create opportunities for students to help meet community needs. But I agree with the assertion by UDC’s leadership that all publicly funded law schools should look to the Clarke School of Law for inspiration and consider a similar service requirement. That would be a profound and powerful change. And it would lead, no doubt, to a more just nation and world.

Such a paradigm shift in legal education would also align with what I see as an inflection point in our justice system. I believe we have arrived at a watershed moment. The choices we now make will reverberate for decades to come. But some important decisions must be made. After all, we face a crisis in our justice system – an environment where, despite our founding promise of justice for all, we still must strive to reach that vaunted goal.

Our indigent defense system, for example, is broken; public defenders in some areas are so overwhelmed that they can spend, at most, an hour per case, many of which present life-altering legal questions and decisions. The situation is no better in the civil arena. More than 50 million Americans qualify for federally funded legal assistance, but over half of those who qualify and seek assistance from a federally funded legal assistance program are turned away. There simply aren’t enough resources.

But, fortunately, there are an increasing number of attorneys around the country who are beginning to realize how critical it is that those who have it all – a law degree, a steady job, a good income – help those who have next to nothing, free of charge. And I’m pleased to report that, at the Department of Justice, there is now – at long last – an “Access to Justice” office, which is led by the eminent Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe and dedicated to ensuring the fairness, integrity, and improvement of our legal system.

But let me be clear about something: the Justice Department’s Access to Justice Initiative is not rooted in the notion that the government can do it all. Government can’t. And that’s where each of you comes in. To me, UDC’s students, alumni, and supporters represent an attitude change that is reaching its “tipping point” and, I expect, will soon become widely accepted practice – that pro bono work is not merely good, as its Latin name implies, but is necessary – that it defines the notion of what is expected of an attorney. That every lawyer should engage in pro bono practice frequently, whether you are a professor, a partner, a student, an associate, or a Department of Justice attorney.

Granted, we’re not quite there yet. An American Bar Association study last year reported a definite rise in pro bono activities among lawyers, but it also noted, and I quote, that “more than three-fourths of those who had performed pro bono service in the past year indicated that they do not seek out pro bono opportunities: the opportunities find them.” And many surveyed still did not participate in pro bono, citing a lack of interest among their employers for such work or the sense that there was no free time to spare.

But all of you, current and future leaders who have regularly engaged in public service and seen the power of these individual and collective acts, can help to fulfill the potential attitude shift that I’ve just described. And as you do so, you can – indeed, I expect you will – remain engaged in critical pro bono work here in Washington, D.C., not because the opportunities find you, but because you find them. As you know well, there is so much need in this city, and so many different ways to use your skills, training, and talents to help others.

It may not always be easy. Ripples of hope can be easily smothered by waves of resistance. The cases you take up may not be glamorous, and your services may not always be appreciated. And, if you are a student, after you graduate there may no longer be any formal requirement to give back; you’ll have to seek out service opportunities.

But I urge you to do just that. Find ways to contribute and to encourage others to serve. Individual acts, performed in the pursuit of justice, must continue and must spread as far and as wide as possible – even, and especially, into conference rooms and classrooms where they previously had no place. That is what this school – and what both David Clarke and Joseph Rauh – stood for: training lawyers, not only to be successful, but to be examples for others and to be reminders about the importance and power of pro bono service.

So tonight, let us renew our commitment to what Robert Kennedy once called in South Africa, “our shared determination to wipe away the unnecessary sufferings of our fellow human beings.” That may not be our only purpose as lawyers, but it is our most sacred and important. It should, and must, define who we are as attorneys and the legal system within which we operate. As leaders in our profession you must spread the philosophy of this great institution and make what is unique commonplace.

Thank you.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

Mike Rauh

Dean Broderick at Lectern

Wade Henderson and Eric Holder

Henderson Sessoms Holder Broderick Rauh

Eric Holder at lectern

Wade Henderson

Evan Mascagni