Laughlin McDonald – 2019 Honorary Degree Recipient

Laughlin McDonald – 2019 Honorary Degree Recipient


– The thing that I appreciate so much is being able to represent
racial and language minorities in problems that they have. When I came to work for the ACLU, there were two big
projects that we worked on. Bringing suits to desegregate
prisons, and jails, and juries, and bar
associations, and so on. And then the other was
a voting rights project. And, we were able to
desegregate prisons and jails, and that was an enormously
satisfying thing for me. Having been able to do a lot of things that provide racial
and language minorities equal access to the political process, and the ability to elect
candidates of their choice. And those are very important things. And I’m very gratified to see
that we’ve made real changes. I mean, one of the first
lawsuits that I was involved in was Washington versus
Lee, which was a challenge to racially segregated
prisons and jails in Alabama. And we were able to win that
case, and the result was, is that they, this court required all of the prisons and jails
to be desegregated. That was an enormous
result of the litigation. And then after that, we also gonna file a suit in South Carolina, challenging racially segregated
prisons and jails there. And my father was on the
Board of Corrections, so they were the ones who operated the racially segregated prisons and jails. Before we filed the lawsuit, I called him on Saturday afternoon, because I knew he’d be at home by then. “Daddy, this is Laughlin. “Just want you to know that the ACLU “is gonna file this lawsuit
challenging segregation “in prisons and jails. “And then the Board of
Corrections will be a defendant, “as well as individual
members, including you.” I said, “I just want you to know “that I don’t wanna embarrass you. “I don’t want you to see
it, your son is suing you. “So I’m not gonna be
involved in the litigation. “I’m not gonna be on the papers.” And I didn’t know what he was gonna say. And he said, “Well, my
career’s almost over. “Yours is just beginning. “I’ll just resign.” I said, “Well, daddy, you
can do whatever you wanna do, “but I’m not gonna be involved “in the case while you’re on the board.” So he served out his turn,
then he got off the board, and then I became involved in the lawsuit, and we were able to settle it. And the settlement consisted of desegregating the prisons and jails. We were able to accomplish a lot. Now I think you can write and take philosophical
positions on things. You can write articles and books saying that the system is wrong,
it needs to be corrected. The pleasure in being a lawyer, and being able to bring a lawsuit is that you can get a remedy ordered by the district court, curing the problem. And that’s what we were able to do in the Racial Justice Project and in the Voting Rights Projects, so, I found that to be very
rewarding and very, well, I have enjoyed doing it.

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