Columbia Law School Medal of Excellence – Acceptance Speech Notes – PDF

2005 Columbia Law School Medal for Excellence Award Certificate

2005 Columbia Law School Medal of Excellence Speech Notes

Columbia—jan 2005

I want to really thank my brother whom I love dearly—family—Karen; sister ellen and her partner Cholene and my wonderful niece lizzy—-

This weekend happens to be my brothers 60th birthday– I always tell him he is catching up to me—today I am two years older—after 23 jan I will be one year older—at least on the calendar

I want to thank Columbia, and our new Dean—david Shizer and the alumni association-­I see this award as really as an award to CCR—my legal and political home for over 30 years—(founders morty bill Arthur)

CCR people here—won’t stand–but proud of all of us—-

I see the award as recognition of the Center’s role in these difficult times in defense of core values of our democracy–

Values which we—lawyers in particular–assumed would be with us forever—

We can no longer make that assumption–These values–the prohibition against torture; the prohibition on executive, indefinite detentions and the prohibition on disappearances–are now undermined by the current administration—-

I remember in October when I received the letter from Dean Shizer telling me I was receiving the award—the letter told me about the program and gave me some advice about my 5 minute talk: David said:

“personal reminiscences about your time at Columbia law school are always well received at this event” Now, I have no doubt about David’s sincerity here—although I °Sind have taken it to mean, that “I should not give some heavy handed radical speech about revolution” Of course, as David may or may not have realized, to talk about my days at Columbia–is to talk about exactly that–a revolution—-

And indeed it was—

When I began class of 69—300 men; dozen women; fewer blacks—6 days a week class

It was hard—very hard—great teachers—harry jones—worked like a dog—

By the time I graduated in 1970–no exams, no grades, no classes and I had been put on

the appointments committee–

Indeed a revolution of sorts had happened—nothing was to be the same afterwards—not

for me, the law school or the country–

For me—I got a great education; met activists from class of 70—gus r; Eleanor s and

Margie k and others—

And of course on an April night in 68 had the heck beaten out of me—-by cops on

the campus-It was a defining moment for me

-it was significant period for the school—and the country—a time finally for black rights;

women rights, gay rights and classes in poverty law that reflected a society concerned by

a social safety net—and of course Vietnam-

–We—at Columbia and in the US– were going thru a necessary change–the day of 300 white males in a law school was over–

[as an aside a fantastic place to teach—diverse, experience, challenging–]

My life had been changed—I was not going to work at a big firm

-First I decided to clerk—I would choose a judge I wanted to work with—who was the most liberal, pioneering judge at the time—cbm–Columbia grad—that is where I went­– from CBM I learned what courage and principle could mean-

–clerking is where I met CCR-3 founders—all Columbia—

one of them Arthur subpoenaed to a grand jury—morty and bill come roaring in—

–judge says type of immunity unconst—end of subpoena

Then I went to ccr and never looked back—

Aggressive litigation in support of social change—

4 days there—attica—-went up

can you imagine excitement of ccr in early 70’s—chicago 7; guy Goodwin subpoena–

district ct; Vietnam—mark Amsterdam–arthur bill and morty —and then Peter pushing international law—

So for 30 years been associated with ccr—taught; written, spoken litigated—

CCR and I–taken on the issues of the day—taken on the impossible cases—at the edge

of law—just mention one—filartiga—architect is here—

Which brings me to today—at least for me—today–

For the administration its not today its 1214—time before magna carta—and its

guarantees of trial before imprisonment—

For the administration it’s a time more akin to the inquisition –torture accepted—and

senate may actually elevate someone to ag job—who has dirty hands in this entire


Our obligation—part. lawyers– to resist—this assault on fundamental rights—

I want to close by talking briefly about Guantanamo–US offshore interrogation camp–

CCR—took first gitmo cases—jan 2002

Could not get any other organizations—afraid of public reaction—bad precedent—loser

Knew gitmo first hand—

So began—only death penalty lawyers—shearman–

-most hate mail ever received—
Issue —was the courthouse door opened?

-killed in lower cts—no support-

-by time in sct—change—association of bar; still only bar—

-50k pows; korematus; former judges–former govt officials

Major victory—courts open–can file habeas—most important civil rights case in 50 years—

Ct sites manga carta—telling administration it is 1215 not 1214

Amazing—resilience—of even relatively moderate courts—

CCR then put together a team to continue the fight—

Today—85 lawyers—the major firms in the country have joined us

—over 80 clients–soon over 100 clients—eventually everyone

Ct sites manga carta—

Amazing—resilience—of even relatively moderate courts—

CCR then put together a team to continue the fight–

Today—85 lawyers—the major firms in the country have joined us

—over 80 clients–soon over 100 clients—eventually everyone

many major firms in the country

Still more work—ask you–if not involved get involved—

This is all to say—

I am proud of Columbia for honoring me; proud of ccr for what it has done—morty bill

and Arthur–

-and if I had to do over again—I would do just what I have done—fight for what is right

and just—-and to make a better world—