On September 20, Boalt Hall alumni and friends thronged Oakland’s majestic Rotunda Building for the 2007 Trailblazers in Justice Gala. The crowd, welcomed by Oakland mayor Ron Dellums, spent the evening celebrating the courageous contributions to the civil rights movement of John Doar ’49, currently senior counsel with Doar, Rieck, Kaley & Mack in New York, and Christopher Daley ’01, founding director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco.
Between 1960 and 1967, the most critical years in the legal fight for civil rights, Doar served as First Assistant and then as Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, at the Department of Justice. During the Watergate era, he served as Special Counsel to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives; his work there helped lead to the impeachment of President Nixon.
In a documentary by filmmaker Abby Ginzberg screened at the gala, Doar appeared as a young DOJ lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi, days after the murder of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, quelling the violence that erupted between riot police and a volatile crowd of demonstrators responding with outrage to the murder. That brave, singular act portended Doar’s prosecution of the slayers of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, which resulted in the first conviction of a white person for killing a black person in Mississippi (Chaney was African American).
“The stain of the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow is much more persistent and difficult to eradicate than we imagined,” said the director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice (HCSJ), Mary Louise Frampton. At the center, she said, students “learn how to be social justice lawyers in the broadest sense of the term.”
HCSJ cultivates its students’ sensitivity to the problems facing disadvantaged communities—in the words of Frampton, “poverty, despair, segregated neighborhoods, crowded prisons, and failing schools.” Dean Christopher F. Edley called HCSJ the “soul” of Boalt Hall.
The Honorable Thelton E. Henderson ’62 is chief judge emeritus of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Among his most notable rulings are striking California’s controversial affirmative action initiative and placing the state’s prison healthcare system under federal control.
The 2006 winner of the Thelton E. Henderson Social Justice Prize, executive director of the East Bay Community Law Center Tirien Steinbach ’99, bequeathed the 2007 prize to Christopher Daley ’01, whose work as the founding director of the Transgender Law Center exemplifies the courage and vision behind Henderson’s life and work.
Daley spoke about trailblazing in the field of gender rights, saying, “It’s about gender; it’s about power; it’s about class and culture. It’s about the opportunity to be accepted for ourselves.”
“From the day Chris first landed at Boalt Hall,” Steinbach said, “people stood up and took notice. The unwritten criterion for the prize,” she added, “is humility”–an attribute the gala’s honorees demonstrated in abundance.