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George Floyd and the Quest For Racial Justice

June 3, 2020

So much has happened in recent days across our nation to deepen our unimaginably raw wounds. People and communities of color have been subject for generations to racially discriminatory, abusive and deadly policing policies and tactics. Seeing such policies and tactics graphically captured on video has led to excruciating pain, anguished escalation and visceral demands for justice. We will continue to have open conversations about our different experiences, educating each other on the manifest impacts of institutional and structural racism and supporting the health and well-being of everyone in our community, especially our Black colleagues for whom these atrocities carry magnified frustration and pain.

Paul, Weiss is proud of our history of fighting for racial justice. Nearly a century ago, our partner Walter Pollak successfully persuaded the Supreme Court to vacate the convictions of the “Scottsboro Boys” – four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Alabama and sentenced to death – in Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932). Lloyd Garrison, the grandson of the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, joined our firm in 1945 and pressed for racial justice and urged our firm to play a leadership role in the Civil Rights movement. In 1949, we hired Bill Coleman and became the first major law firm in the United States to hire a lawyer of color. As fate would have it, Bill Coleman joined forces with Louis Pollak, the son of Walter Pollak and at the time a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss (who later became the Dean of Yale Law School and a celebrated U.S. federal district judge), and these two Paul, Weiss lawyers worked closely with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers in developing the overall strategy for attacking the legality of segregated public education and drafting the briefs in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

We have continued in the decades since to fight for racial justice, in all its forms and manifestations. We successfully challenged voting rights restrictions based on race.  We successfully challenged racial discrimination in housing, in education and in criminal sentencing. We helped draft the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. We participated in peaceful marches from Selma to Montgomery. We chaired the Board of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in its formative years and again quite recently, and we successfully fought the group of Southern Republican Senators who tried to destroy it by revoking its tax-exempt status.  We co-chaired the White House Conference on Civil Rights. As President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, noted, “Paul, Weiss has always been there for the civil rights community.”

Fighting for racial justice is at the heart of what we are as an institution; it is what we stand for; it is what we believe in our hearts; it is what attracted so many of us to join this firm. And we are focused on moving forward constructively, concretely and expeditiously to help achieve racial justice, combat racially discriminatory policing practices and eradicate systemic racism. However, this crisis of racial injustice is too daunting, too sprawling, too embedded and too complex to be addressed by a single law firm or public interest organization, no matter how well-intentioned and well-resourced. Just as we did in connection with the gun violence epidemic, the family separation crisis and the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we intend to form strategic partnerships across the private bar and the public interest community to effect meaningful and enduring change. Through our efforts, we intend to reinforce the message that black lives matter, provide accountability, incentivize positive policy changes and deter abusive tactics.

Please know that we are in this together and we are in this for the long run, and we pledge that we will fight this fight with all of our collective talents and might. This cause is too great, and failure at this point in our history is not an option.

Please be safe.

Brad S. Karp

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