WASHINGTON, D.C., August 2, 2013 – On Thursday, August 1, President Obama, members of Congress and the Obama administration joined civil rights leaders and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law for a White House reception to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Lawyers’ Committee.
Standing in the same room where President John F. Kennedy formed the Lawyers’ Committee in 1963 and called for lawyers to dedicate time, resources to address racial discrimination and inequality of opportunity, President Obama praised the great work the Lawyers’ Committee has done over the past 50 years as a leader in the fight for civil rights, social and economic justice, and noted that the Lawyers’ Committee’s work remains necessary today.
“There are too many Americans who are still facing discrimination. As we mark this anniversary, it is important to note that the civil rights movement wasn’t just about racial equality. It was also about jobs, economic justice. The civil rights movement was also about equal access to the courts, the full protection of our Constitution. Those are all things that continue to challenge us today,” said President Obama. “And the good news is that we have an organization like this that is able to mobilize and galvanize leadership from all across the country.”
President Obama also recognized two special attendees who were also present for the 1963 White House meeting convened by President John F. Kennedy calling for the formation of the Lawyers’ Committee: Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Robert Mucklestone, honorary lifetime member of the Lawyers’ Committee and partner at Perkins Coie LLP and Perkins Coie Capital Management, LLC. Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was also in attendance.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. spoke of the Department of Justice and the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the rights of American citizens. “I can assure you that this administration, this President and this Justice Department are firmly committed to using every tool at our disposal to continue to ensure that the civil rights and the voting rights of all Americans are protected,” said Attorney General Holder.
While remarking on its progress and achievements, Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine used the occasion to underscore the vital need for the work and mission of the Lawyers’ Committee to continue, especially in light of the Supreme Court rulings on voting rights in Shelby v. Holder and affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas.
“The overt and subtle racial discrimination and racial disparities of our time requires that the private bar brings the best of our talent and dedication to dismantling these barriers and combatting discrimination in any and all forms,” said Ms. Arnwine. “In the years to come, we will strategically work to protect the right to vote, she added.”
Ms. Arnwine acknowledged the work of the Lawyers’ Committee across its core areas –including community development, educational opportunities, employment discrimination, fair housing and fair lending, legal mobilization, public policy and voting rights.
Jane Sherburne, Lawyers’ Committee Co-chair, stated that “The lawyers President Kennedy assembled – among the most distinguished and privileged in the profession — embraced his challenge to lead – to use their skill and influence to create an America free of race barriers to civil rights, and we have not stopped since.” Ms. Sherburne renewed President Kennedy’s call to action, stated that “Should President Obama repeat President Kennedy’s question: ‘where are all the lawyers’?, our answer is ‘right here, Mr. President, right here’.
Ms. Sherburne also noted that “We recognize that the tenacity of discrimination and economic injustice threatens the promise of these accomplishments, demanding that we remain vigilant and ready to fight once-won battles again and again.”
As part of this year-long special commemoration, the Lawyers’ Committee launched a comprehensive 50th Anniversary Moving America Toward Justice campaign. This national initiative is highlighting the critical role of the rule of law in the progress made and why it is so important in addressing the challenges that remain.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2013 as we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.”