Department of Justice Seal
Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Welcome of Attorney General's Honors Program Attorneys
The Great Hall
March 18, 2003

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

    Good morning.

    Congratulations on your selection for the Attorney General's Honors Program and welcome to the Department of Justice. One of my great privileges as Attorney General is the opportunity I have to speak on occasions such as this - ceremonies that honor the men and women of justice and at the same time pay an unspoken tribute to the role of the family in service to the nation.

    When justice honors its own, this Great Hall is often filled with the families and friends of those we gather together to honor. Your presence is a reminder that our service to the nation is also a lesson to those around us. In everything we do, we teach. When we sacrifice for the cause of justice, we teach others that there are more important things than ourselves - causes and principles and values that transcend us; things that are worth sacrificing for. I extend a special welcome to all of you here today to celebrate and honor our Honors Program Attorneys.

    In the fall of 2001, nearly 2,500 eligible candidates applied for the Honors Program. Only 179 of you were invited here today. You come from 93 different law schools. Seventy-five percent of you were part of your school's Law Review. Seventy-eight percent of you were in the top third of your class or higher. Forty percent of you served as judicial clerks. You come from all quarters of this great nation and truly reflect the strength of America.

    All of you are talented young attorneys who had doors of opportunity open to you. Yet you have chosen to serve your nation here at the Department of Justice. I am inspired by the desire of such bright new lawyers to serve the public interest, and I am confident that your experience here will prove to be an outstanding start to your legal career.

    We are privileged to serve the American people and the President of the United States during an extraordinary time in our nation's history. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that "Justice is the end of Government...It ever has been and ever will be pursued." Nowhere is this more true than here at the Justice Department.

    Our primary mission is now as it has always been - to uphold justice and to defend the liberties of all Americans. The attacks of September 11, 2001 served as a bitter reminder that we live in an era in which the values Americans hold most dear - freedom, equality, and justice - are under assault in the world. As Honors Program attorneys, you are now partners in the fight to preserve these values and protect the lives and liberties of your fellow citizens.

    Our mission is more important than ever before. And in the midst of the assault on the values we hold so dear, we have learned a great lesson: our values are neither self-executing nor self-sustaining. They must be defended, not just with military might, but with deeper devotion.

    At the Justice Department, we strive to ensure that justice always is served. As you embark on careers in the law, you bear the awesome responsibility of understanding, seeking, and defending justice. Justice has enemies in the world. Her defense is more than an intellectual exercise or a mere job. It is your calling; it is the calling of our time.

    As members of the Justice Department, you must embrace a vision of justice rooted deeply in the American tradition of self-government - a system in which Americans are not passive spectators but active participants; a system that honors equally the rights of all Americans by making justice available and accessible to all.

     There is no better place for you to embrace this responsibility. Your work here will be challenging, but vastly rewarding. Since 1953, attorneys recruited under the Attorney General's Honors Program have distinguished themselves in every area of the law. Many of the Department's leaders began their legal careers in the Honors Program. You will learn from some of the best legal minds in the country, and the Department will benefit from your fresh insights and enthusiasm. You will be entrusted with meaningful legal issues, many of which are of national significance. Most importantly, you will have the honor of representing the United States.

    We recognize the sacrifices you - our future leaders - make in service to America. We have looked closely at ways we can improve our investment in and commitment to your professional development. And we are taking action: Among other new initiatives, we are implementing an Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program to assist 50 or more attorneys this year in repaying law school debts. And because you will step into demanding, sensitive, and substantive legal issues early in your career, we are also working to develop a formal mentoring program. As you assume greater responsibilities, we will match you with experienced attorneys who will serve as your guide and counsel. The wisdom and expertise of these legal mentors will be an indispensable asset to your professional development. This is an opportunity that cannot be matched elsewhere.

    We chose you because of your outstanding credentials and your potential to excel. You chose us because we provide an extraordinary opportunity - an opportunity that confers an extraordinary responsibility. I have every confidence that you will embrace this chance to serve your nation, and I urge you to approach your duties with passion and integrity.

    At a gathering of lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina in 1847, Daniel Webster raised his glass in a toast. "To the law," Webster said. "It has honored us; may we honor it." May you, our Honors Program Attorneys, honor the law as it has honored you. The legacy you inherit is precious, so hold it high, and bear it with dignity. Pursue truth. Defend freedom. And above all, seek justice.

    Congratulations again, and thank you.