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Mortimer Caplin, of Caplin & Drysdale; John Payton, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Karen Hastie Williams, member of the LDF Board of Directors; James Nabrit III, emeritus member of LDF's board; and Mrs. Thurgood (Cissy) Marshall gather at the Spring Luncheon marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of LDF. (Photo Â© Stephanie Badini)
With annual Spring Luncheon & Conversation at the National Press Club,Â speakers reminisce about the state of civil rights 70 years ago
Washington, D.C., May 13, 2010 â€” John Payton, President and Director-Counsel of LDF, reminded the scores of attorneys, judges and government officials at the LDF Spring Luncheon & Conversation yesterday what a different world we live in today compared to 70 years ago when LDF was founded.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Mr. Payton said, "The statutes everybody knows and counts on today were not in existence in 1940. Voting and equal access to housing, employment and public establishments such as restaurants, were simply not there for us. We couldn't even meet here to have lunch."
"Clearly, LDF has made a difference in the 70 years of its existence, and our mission today is to develop strategies that will create rights and make the precedents established over the last 70 years continue to change our country into the democracy that we know it can be," he added.
Seth P. Waxman, former Solicitor General of the United States and one of the nation's leading litigators with extensive experience arguing cases before the Supreme Court, praised the strategic role of LDF "in making sure rights have meaning for all people." He called LDF "the nation's first strategic nongovernmental litigator for civil rights."
Talking about today's Supreme Court, Mr. Waxman noted that the Court would benefit from more diversity, and as an example, he reminded the audience that Sandra Day O'Connor was the last justice on the Supreme Court who had run for public office.
He also said, "I'm not sure how we slid into the concept that someone who had not been a judge could not be qualified to serve on the nation's highest court." He cited several justices who had not been judges before appointed to the Supreme Court, including John Marshall, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter.
Mr. Payton advised the audience that "We have to be aware of the reality that we are in." He told the story of when Charles Hamilton Houston, the architect of LDF, went before the Supreme Court in 1938 to argue the case Gaines v. Missouri, Justice James McReynolds turned his chair around rather than face a black lawyer arguing a case in the Supreme Court. Mr. Houston prevailed with his argument in that case.
He also talked about today's reality. "We have seen the public discourse fractured with paranoia and increasing hatred. We are not post-racial," he stated.
Debo Adegbile, Director of Litigation at LDF, moderated the discussion.
Since 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) has been America's legal counsel on issues of race. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF focuses on issues of education, voter protection, economic justice and criminal justice. The LDF encourages students to embark on careers in the public interest through scholarships and internship programs. LDF pursues racial justice to move our nation toward a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all.