A capacity crowd of more than 600 friends and supporters filled the palatial San Francisco City Hall Rotunda September 15 to celebrate the naming of the Center for Social Justice in honor of Judge Thelton E. Henderson ’62 and salute one of Boalt’s most distinguished and revered graduates. Guests attending the gala dinner paid tribute to the center’s work and to Henderson’s legendary career as a lawyer, jurist, humanitarian and pioneer in the advancement of civil rights.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom formally welcomed Henderson at the foot of the grand marble staircase, and proclaimed September 15 to be Thelton E. Henderson Day in San Francisco.
The Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice is the centerpiece of Boalt’s public interest program, and offers students hands-on multidisciplinary training and research in areas ranging from poverty law to environmental justice. Director Mary Louise Frampton remarked that Henderson reflects the greatest aspirations of the center.
“That’s what we train people to do,” Frampton said. “To be like Thelton Henderson . . . . to break new ground, take risks and be intimately connected in the most human way with the vulnerable among us.”
Stephen Reinhardt, justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, introduced Henderson as “simply and plainly the best judge in America.”
Henderson, appointed to the federal bench in 1980, is chief judge emeritus of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. His judicial career has been marked by rulings on many of the most contentious issues of recent times, from striking down California’s controversial affirmative action initiative to placing the California prison healthcare system under federal control.
Reinhardt paid particular tribute to Henderson’s courage in the face of these challenges. “Reversed or not, Thelton was right,” Reinhardt concluded.
Henderson spoke movingly about many of the moments and people that have shaped his career. “We must never forget,” he observed, “that while battles are still being won, the struggle is not over.”
To mark the inauguration, the Henderson Center awarded the first annual Judge Thelton E. Henderson Social Justice Prize to Tirien Steinbach ’99, director of the Decriminalization of Poverty Practice at the East Bay Community Law Center, the community-based component of Boalt’s clinical program and one of the foremost poverty law clinics in the country.