“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

On 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.

Eric Holder at lectern

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. 

Evan Mascagni

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. 

Wade Henderson and Eric Holder

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.”

Dean Broderick at Lectern

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.”

Henderson Sessoms Holder Broderick Rauh

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.  

Wade Henderson

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.

Read the full remarks from the Department of Justice.

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