Attorney 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.”

We are in a terrible pandemic of wage theft and worker misclassification in the District.

Attorney GEneral for the District of Columbia Karl Racine

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 on our YouTube channel

About Joseph L. Rauh Jr.

Joe Rauh may not have invented public interest law, but he certainly perfected it. For more than half a century, Joe championed the under-dog, the disenfranchised, and all minorities. His widely-known battles for civil rights, civil liberties, and equal access to justice are the essence of public interest law.

Less well known was Joe’s vision of a wholly new approach to legal education tied to the practice of public interest law. Joe believed law students should “learn by doing,” not just by reading cases. To Joe, this meant not only expanded clinical education within conventional law schools, but much more.

Joe 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’s dream come true. A founding member of the Law School’s Board of Governors, Joe remained one of its staunchest supporters until his last hours with us.

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 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, the School of 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.