Department of Justice Seal

Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The Great Hall
January 17, 2003

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

      Forty years ago this August, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a minister - the son and grandson of ministers - delivered a speech that forever shaped the mission of the Department of Justice. More eloquently than any attorney general before or since, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of making justice, quote, "a reality for all God's children."

      Dr. King spoke of a dream - a dream deeply rooted in the American dream - of a nation that rises up to live out the true meaning of its creed; an America in which all men and women are guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      At the Department of Justice, it is our mission to safeguard and to defend these rights - for all God's children. Our duty to defend freedom through the law by its very definition excludes no American on the basis of his or her race, religion, sex or creed. Fulfilling this duty is the obligation of each and every one of us.

      From the first days of our administration, honoring the diversity of the American people has been a priority for President Bush and for me. And I am pleased to be able to say that never before in history has there been a more diverse and more qualified team of presidentially appointed leaders here at the Department of Justice. Under Larry Thompson's indispensable leadership, we have not been satisfied with a team that merely looks like America - we have built a team that reflects the strength of America.

      I am honored to serve with this team, and I look forward to the day when the entirety of the Justice Department - from line attorneys to investigators to staff assistants - reflects the same diversity and professional excellence as the leadership team.

      Today, we gather in this Great Hall of Justice to honor the life and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. The energy and vision of Dr. King were instrumental in the creation of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

     Since its establishment in 1957, the Civil Rights Division has undergone a dramatic increase in both size and responsibility. In the past two years alone, the Division has seen an 11 percent increase in its number of employees. Under the outstanding leadership of Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd, the Civil Rights Division has increased virtually all of its civil rights enforcement activities. To give you a few examples:

The strong presence and commitment of Department of Justice officials resulted in a smooth election with far fewer complaints than have been reported in recent years. Their presence also assuaged the concerns of American voters, who embraced the privilege and the opportunity to shape our government at the polls.

      America has made tremendous progress in the last forty years. And as we strive to realize Dr. King's dream, we are guided always by his life and his words. We are inspired by his example and we are given strength by his unique vision of the values that bring us together rather than the differences that tear us apart.

      In the spirit of Dr. King, we seek justice for all because we know, quote, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

      In the spirit of Dr. King, we seek equality for all, so we will be judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.

      And in the spirit of Dr. King, we seek freedom for all, because, as Dr. King understood, quote, "There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom."

      Monday will mark the 74th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's birth, and the 17th time America has celebrated the national holiday honoring the man who called Americans to a new ideal and a new vision of justice. As Governor of Missouri, I was honored to sign into law the first Dr. Martin Luther King holiday in my state. As a nation, we set aside this one day not just to honor Dr. King's life, but to reflect upon his vision of - and challenge to - America.

      Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us we are all entitled to our human dignity, and obligated to respect the human dignity of one another. At the Department of Justice, our goals, like Dr. King's, are rooted in respect for our common humanity and in reverence for this legacy of worthiness. Each and every one of us is made in the image of our common Creator. Each and every one of us is an heir to this legacy.

      This is not a one-day sentiment or a negotiable objective. It is our ongoing mission; it is our life's work to ensure all Americans are heirs to this "legacy of worthiness." Today, as we commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, let us also rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of justice for all God's children.