BY JUSTIN HERDMAN
The Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, might soon have an HLS grad at its helm. Before that happens, however, Ralph Boyd ’84, Pres. George Bush’s nominee for the post, will almost certainly have to navigate a minefield of partisan squabbles during Senate confirmation proceedings.
Tuesday Pres. Bush announced Boyd’s nomination to the post of Assistant Attorney General in charge of civil rights enforcement. In early conversations with the media, the nominee displayed a caution and shrewdness that may serve him well in a confirmation battle. “I just can’t comment, but I appreciate your good wishes,” Boyd told CNN. “I’m not Washington savvy, but I do have some friends that are.” Boyd did not return a RECORD phone call to his office Wednesday.
Prof. Charles Ogletree ’78 spoke to the RECORD about Boyd, with whom he worked in urging the administration of Gov. Paul Cellucci to diversify the Massachussets state government. Boyd, who is also a former student of Ogletree’s, has served as a volunteer instructor in the Trial Advocacy Workshop (TAW) at Harvard Law School. “Based upon what I know of him over 15 years, including his role as a volunteer in TAW and on the diversity advisory group, I’m optimistic about his role as the assistant attorney general for civil rights,” Ogletree said.
If Boyd were confirmed by the Senate, he would be the third African-American appointed by Bush to the Justice Department. The selection of Boyd, who would work closely with Attorney General John Ashcroft, may serve to alleviate concerns raised by Democrats regarding Ashcroft’s alleged racial insensitivity. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces federal anti-discrimination laws, voting rights cases and school desegregation. The office will also play a central role in congressional redistricting.
In recent years, nominations to the DOJ’s Civil Rights post have witnessed rancorous partisan debate. President Clinton’s tapping of Prof. Lani Guinier for the position resulted in a bitter confirmation battle, one that Clinton and Guinier eventually lost.
If confirmed, Boyd’s office would be responsible for an enhanced role in the enforcement of voting laws. At a press conference Wednesday, Ashcroft announced a set of voting rights initiatives that would place Boyd at the forefront of a concerted effort to enforce federal election law. Ashcroft dubbed Boyd a “well-known federal prosecutor and strong advocate for civil rights in urban America.” Ashcroft pointed to Boyd’s prosecution of inner city violent crime as but one indicator of a commitment to civil rights. Ashcroft also cited Boyd’s service as an editor on the HLS Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Law Review.
Boyd’s history of pro bono representation was also pointed to by Ashcroft as evidence of a civil rights record. “Before going to the U.S. Attorney’s office, [Boyd] routinely took cases on behalf of indigent tenants whom he defended in the Boston Housing Court in eviction proceedings,” Ashcroft said, pointing to but one in a series of cases.
Boyd has been a partner in the litigation department of Goodwin Procter Hoar LLP since March of 1997. He has also served as Assistant United States Attorney in Boston. During six years as a federal prosecutor, Boyd investigated and prosecuted bank fraud, firearms offenses, homicide, bombing, narcotics trafficking, and bank robbery cases, as well as several high profile cases involving gang violence. The Associated Press reported that Boyd’s reputation was that of a determined investigator willing to work late nights on certain cases.
While at the U.S. Attorney’s office, Boyd administered “Operation Trigger-lock”, a national firearms prosecution initiative of the United States Department of Justice. He also served on the Justice Department’s Urban Anti-Violent Crime Initiative Team, the Mayor’s Anti-Crime Council, and the Cease Fire Group – a Boston anti-violence campaign involving local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, courts, and the Boston Public Schools. Boyd also argued numerous appeals on behalf of the United States in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Such a reputation may help insulate Boyd from attacks by Democrats who see the Civil Rights post as a symbol of Bush’s resolve to foster bipartisanship. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told CNN that he is familiar with Boyd’s record, but said that he wants to “judiciously” consider the nomination. Kerry said that Boyd’s qualifications need to be “examined thoughtfully and carefully.”
An aide to a Democratic Senator told the Boston Globe that Boyd’s lack of civil rights experience may be a plus. “He’s got a very good reputation, but he has basically no record on civil rights. Judging from some of the Justice nominees so far, perhaps no record is better than a record,” the aide said.
Conservatives were more effusive in praising Boyd’s nomination. Clint Bolick, who is the vice president of the conservative Institute for Justice, told CNN that Boyd is highly qualified for the position. “Boyd is a former prosecutor with a very distinguished record in law enforcement and is an outstanding nominee,” Bolick said.
“I’m hopeful that he will return a sense of purpose to a civil rights division that has gone adrift on ideological crusades over the last eight years,” Bolick later told the Boston Globe.
Boyd graduated from Haverford College in 1979. Following HLS, he served as law clerk to the Honorable Joseph H. Young, United States District Judge for the District of Maryland. Boyd then litigated civil cases during five years of private practice. In March 1996, he was appointed by then Governor William F. Weld to the Executive Committee of the Judicial Nominating Council. In 1997, Mr. Boyd was appointed to serve on the U.S. Magistrate Judge Selection and Review Panel by the judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
While in law school, Boyd was a member of Harvard Defenders, the Black Law Students Association and the Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Law Review. During one summer, Boyd served as an intern at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Boyd has since served as an advisor to the Trial Advocacy Workshop at Harvard.