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Work For Racial Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor

Work for racial justice, O'Connor tells law school's grads

By Anne Gearan
The Associated Press

May 26, 2003

WASHINGTON + Too many people think the American criminal and court system is racist, and lawyers should work to achieve "both the perception and the reality of equal justice," Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said Sunday.

"There is sad evidence all across the nation that a substantial number of our citizens believe our legal and judicial system is unresponsive to them because of racial bias, that too often equal justice is but an unrealized slogan," O'Connor said.

O'Connor also urged about 500 graduates of George Washington University's law school to volunteer to help people who cannot pay for legal help.

No paid legal work she did as a lawyer in private practice gave her more satisfaction, O'Connor told the graduates.

"Use your skills acquired here to help provide both the perception and the reality of equal justice under law," O'Connor said.

A moderate conservative named to the high court by Ronald Reagan, O'Connor has played a crucial tie-breaking role in cases involving race.

She wrote the court's final word on race-conscious legislative redistricting, and is expected to be the deciding vote in this year's marquee case on affirmative action in higher education admissions. The high court is expected to rule before summer on whether and how race can be a factor when public universities choose their students.

There was an awkward reference to that case before O'Connor began her commencement address. Accepting a faculty award, George Washington law professor Paul Butler noted his degrees from Harvard and Yale.

"I received those honors because I worked hard, and also because of affirmative action," Butler said, stressing the last two words.

The students and some faculty applauded, while O'Connor sat quietly, hands folded in her lap.

Copyright Ā 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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