As Washington Council of Lawyers celebrates 50 years of working together to advance progressive causes, I think back to my time as president in 1982-83. Although later US presidents, particularly our nation’s most recent past president, may make the Reagan Administration appear relatively tame, progressives in DC and elsewhere were focused to a large extent on the devastating harm being done by President Ronald Reagan and his administration to the rights of all of us, particularly poor people and minorities, during the 1980s. We were particularly concerned about the retreat from the bipartisan commitment our country had previously seen concerning such issues.
Shortly before I became president, I helped organize and write a Washington Council of Lawyers report, based in part on information provided by our members who were working at the Justice Department, on the tremendous damage to civil rights being done by the Reagan Administration because of its “stewardship” of the Department’s Civil Rights Division. As one of the first but certainly not the last report on the subject, it received a lot of attention. During my year as president, we prepared and released another report on the tremendous harm being done by the significant cutbacks in legal services for poor people, in DC and around the nation, caused by Reagan Administration cutbacks to the Legal Services Corporation.
The attention received by both reports, which were followed up by materials put out by other organizations, helped mobilize progressives to work on these issues as the 1980s continued. They also helped put Washington Council of Lawyers on the map as a respected progressive bar association, both in DC and more broadly. Our reports on other issues, relating to DC and elsewhere, followed in later years.
For me personally, I enjoyed tremendously working on both reports, particularly the collaboration with other Washington Council of Lawyers members and others that both required. At the time, I was a lawyer in private practice in DC, and the work on these reports, as well as my other work as Washington Council of Lawyers president and board member, solidified my own commitment to public interest work, which I began on a full-time basis at the end of the 1980s and have continued for more than 30 years since. I appreciate more than I can say the opportunity to work with others at Washington Council of Lawyers while proudly serving as its president in 1982-83, which helped forge friendships that remain strong today.