Columbia University Medal of Honor – Speech Notes – PDF

2005 Columbia Medal of Honor Speech Notes

I want to really thank my brother who 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–penumbra-I always tell him he is catching up to me—

Recognition that I and ccr represent a set of core legal values- wholesale violations–­ authority under law; due process; prohibition on torture etc

It is also in a few days the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-bruce and I were war babies-and grew up in the shadow of Auschwitz—

I remember seeing the movie the trials of henry kissinger- child of holocaust Talked about lessons people take from that—range from most pragmatic to the idealist-

At the pragmatic end- the kissinger story- kill or be killed; at the idealist end- we can make a better world based on the belief of equality of all kinds—I don’t need to tell you where I come out on all that

In October I received the letter from Dean Shizer telling me I won 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 could have taken to mean, 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—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 Hard hard hard- great teachers-harry jones- worked like a dog–

When I finished—no exams, no grades, no classes and I had been put on the appointments committee—

Indeed a revolution of sorts had happened—nothing to be the same afterwards-not for me, the law school or the country—

—-significant for me—-great education; meeting activists from class of 70–gus r; Eleanor s and Margie k and others—; and night in 68 heck beaten out of me—-defining moment–

–for the school- and the country—black rights; women rights, gay rights and classes such a poverty law that reflected a social safety net—and of course Vietnam-

–still hard feeling on all sides about that period—when I first came back to Columbia 25 years after graduation for a lecture in memory of one of the founders of CCR- prior winner- morton stavis—one faculty member- not reflective of others- circulated an email saying- is this the same Michael Ratner who tried to burn down the law school­ of course an utter exaggeration-

we were going thru a necessary change—the day of 300 white males in a law school was over-

My life had been changed- no working at a big firm-

-and clerking–choosing 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—gellhorn wanted me to Kaufman-but no-know why-although later gave CCR great victory

—and again I learned what courage and principle could mean—and what was right and not intimidated—-

–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—connie not intimidated–

key moment- changing from transactional to use immunity—judge says unconst-end of subpoena—govt not appeal- issue not for a few years-in sct—

left and went to ccr-founders-loft-and never looked back- choice– ruth Ginsberg offered to teach—

aggressive litigation is support of social change 4 days there–attica—-

can you imagine what days in the early 70’s-chicago 7; guy Goodwin subpoenas district ct; Vietnam-mark Amsterdam—arthur bill and morty-and then

Peter pushing international law –

Rhonda and nancy-abortion rights poor women

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

–taken on the issues of the day-taken on the impossible cases- at the edge of law–­ lost a lot-success without victory

but won as well- peter- and Rhonda- filartiga—settled with Unocal—­

–taught that area–

landmarks—gramajo; ben; war powers

–haiti cases- impossible- 50 million in rule 11-closed that camp–ist nitro to gitmo

Which brings me to today-

In all of my work, in all of my experience never seen such an open and notorious violations of fundamental rights by an administration—indefinite detentions-gitmo; torture; disappearances; and special trials—gone back to another age-medieval–

I used to say when talking about gitmo for this admin it is 1214–that as most of you know if you suffered thru dli- is the year before the magna carta


Or sometimes I think back to 1214—you all know that date—that is the year before the magna carta—

Fit class of 60=9/70