Holder Hopes History Holds Him High: Long Live the Sixties

The Sixties, and this is certain, were the Sixties. 

And the 66th attorney general, Ramsey Clark, was a legal activist extraordinaire. The Texas-born Marine schooled at the University of Chicago’s law school served as President Lyndon Johnson’s AG and stood as an outspoken advocate for social justice for many more years. The artist, Boston-born Robert Berks, who produced the 1973 portrait of Clark that hangs in the online pantheon of attorneys general at the Department of Justice also made the bust of Robert F. Kennedy that sits in the DOJ’s Great Hall of Justice.

The official portrait of Kennedy is among the few tie-less in the pantheon of AGs dating from 1789 (Edmund Jennings Randolph). The only woman to serve, Janet Reno, is among them. 

We got to musing about all this when we read Del Wilber’s interview of Eric Holder, the attorney general for President Barack Obama, both the first black men to serve in their offices, in which Holder said he  hopes historians will conclude that he and his Justice Department lawyers “were appropriately aggressive in the tradition of Robert Kennedy” when it came to civil rights. A portrait of Kennedy, who served as attorney general during a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, hangs in Holder’s conference room.

“Holder has positioned himself at the vanguard of protecting racial and ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians from discrimination, fixing what he considers related flaws in the justice system, sometimes without congressional action. Last year, he sued North Carolina and Texas to overturn voter-identification laws that he says unfairly target minorities,” Wilber writers. “And he instructed federal prosecutors to avoid charging low-level drug offenders in a way that triggered what he considers `draconian’ mandatory minimum sentences.” 

Holder’s portrait, so far, runs more to the  conventional genre. But in the history of modern justice art, consider that Clark’s  predecessor in charge of LBJ’s Justice  Department was the late Nicholas Katzenbach,  pictured at left, who taught at Chicago Law and also served as  an under-secretary of state.

Ramsey Clark, 86, became known in later years as a controversial anti-war and human rights lawyer. This could be seen in the turnout for his 85th birthday last year,  also the 20th anniversary of his International Action Center. Officials from Cuba, Venezuela and Iran attended. His center, committed to the fight against “U.S. imperialism abroad,” views the current dispute over Ukraine as a measure of the “ever-expanding. U.S.-commanded NATO military web. ”

The Sixties served as the crucible for civil rights in the United States and gave wings to women’s liberation.

It was Reno, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, who couldn’t find a job at a downtown Miami law firm because she was a woman. So she went into the local prosecutor’s office, became Miami-Dade County’s state attorney and went on to become the longest-serving attorney general of the 20th Century.

Long live the Sixties.

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