Governor Patrick calls for citizen-lawyers


Patrick’s 1982 HLS yearbook photo
Governor Patrick (left) and Dean Kagan

Hailing his career as an “inspiration for law students,” Dean Kagan introduced Deval Patrick ’82, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as the keynote speaker of the American Constitution Society’s kick-off event on Monday, September 22. Born on the South Side of Chicago, Governor Patrick attended Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, before graduating from Harvard College in 1977. After a year abroad, he returned to Cambridge to enroll at HLS, where he became President of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Patrick, who took office in January 2007 as the Commonwealth’s first African-American governor, clerked at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after law school and has since worked in the federal government as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under President Clinton, private firm practice as an associate and later partner of Hill and Barlow, and the higher echelon of corporate law as general counsel to Coca-Cola.

Governor Patrick began his speech by lauding ACS for its central role in the intellectual life of HLS and the nation’s legal community. He then went on to state how proud he was of many progressive achievements made in his first 18 months as governor, including the repeal of a 1913 law which prohibited the Commonwealth from marrying out-of-state residents if the marriage would be invalid in their home state. The law’s original purpose was to block interracial couples from states that banned interracial marriages from going to Massachusetts to get married. Indeed, Professor Randall Kennedy noted in a 2004 interview with The Boston Globe that the law was passed in the midst of a scandal over African-American boxer Jack Johnson’s marriage to an 18-year-old white woman.

Patrick also praised the Legislature for passing regulations expanding buffer zones around family planning clinics and for rejecting President Bush’s abstinence-only sex-ed plan.

The governor then turned his attention to the crux of his speech, which was to encourage HLS students to become “citizen-lawyers” who can “temper the passions of the time with reason and courage.” Patrick cited the example of John Adams, a son of the Commonwealth, who successfully defended four of the six British soldiers on trial in the so-called Boston Massacre. Adams would later say that his defense of the “Redcoats” was, “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” Patrick went on to say that America won its battles by “remembering who she was” even in an environment saturated with fear. However, in the wake of September 11, 2001, Patrick exclaimed, we had allowed ourselves to be governed by that fear. From Guantanomo to the Patriot Act, the Iraq War to the justifications of torture, Americans had forgotten who they were.

Responding to questions, Patrick commented that it was too early to know how Massachusetts’ universal health care system was working, but that the state would play a major role in the construction of a national health care system in the next administration. The governor cabined his remarks, stating that the Massachusetts experience was not typical of other states because the Commonwealth had a smaller proportion of uninsured people to begin with. Patrick also responded to a question about the potential $700 billion financial bailout, stating, “If we are going to bail out Wall Street, there has to be a piece for Main Street.” More broadly, Patrick expressed his disappointment that Democrats have long avoided the language of faith and implored the party to embrace religion as part of its motivating ethos.

Patrick concluded his address by telling the audience to be unapologetic about the fact they attend Harvard. “We have many options here at Harvard,” Patrick said, “Never leave your conscience at the door. If you have to compromise your values for a job, there is only one thing to do: leave.”

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