Deputy Attorney General
National Bar Association 76th Annual Convention Awards
Banquet (Black Tie)
Friday, August 3, 2001
Adams Mark Hotel, Dallas, Texas
To President Simmons, incoming President Rosier, distinguished dias guests, members of the National Bar Association and friends, I am delighted to speak to my fellow members of the bar gathered here for the National Bar Association&'s 79th Annual Convention. Like many of you, I became a member of the NBA early in my career, and my membership in this association has had a clear impact on my career. There is so much valuable information and so many lessons that we can learn from each other. There is so much we can pass on to our younger colleagues.
There are many extremely talented lawyers in this room and within the NBA&'s membership - I look around and see many who I know and admire and with whom I have worked - like Past President H.T. Smith. And I realize what a privilege it is to be in such good company.
BEING A PROSECUTOR
I come before you tonight as a fellow member of the NBA, but also as Deputy Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice. I have spent time in public service before. I served as U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia under President Reagan. After serving in that position, I returned to private practice as a criminal defense attorney.
Some have asked me why leave private practice for government service? They mention many of the obvious reasons not to do so -- pay disparities, fewer perks, less resources -- and the list goes on.
My answer is that for me there is no greater professional satisfaction than working in the public sector. I can now say that I have only one client -- the United States. And the United States is perhaps the greatest client any lawyer can have.
Let me begin by sharing with you some of my philosophy on law enforcement. As a criminal defense lawyer, I represented individuals, rich and poor, and businesses, large and small, accused of wrongdoing. I believe I am the first Deputy Attorney General to serve who had previously been a practicing criminal defense lawyer.
I am pleased that my nomination was supported by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. I know that the good and professional work of criminal defense lawyers is indispensable to our criminal justice system.
But I take a great deal of my guidance as a prosecutor from former Attorney General Robert Jackson who went on to be the lead prosecutor for the United States of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. Attorney General Jackson described the power of federal prosecutors in 1940. He noted:
"The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous. A federal prosecutor can cast a large cloud over a citizen&'s reputation just by initiating an investigation."
Attorney General Jackson went on to describe what a good prosecutor is like. Again, he noted:
"The citizen&'s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth, not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his or her tasks with humility."
Having been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I am sensitive to the fact that we the Department of Justice should exercise this power in a manner that is dispassionate, reasonable and just. As Deputy Attorney General, I strive to do that each and every day.
After all, we are called the Department of Justice, not the Department of Federal Prosecutors.
This evening I would like to urge many of you as members of this great organization to consider public service as a rewarding and viable career option. There are some very talented attorneys working in the public sector. A government practice offers an opportunity for many attorneys to develop an expertise and to garner a national reputation. It also offers an opportunity for a meaningful law practice rooted in public service. The expertise developed in a government practice is also often readily transferable to private practice if you choose to pursue that type of career path.
Let me tell you why your talents are needed.
One of the things that was striking to me when I was in private practice was that, as I had an opportunity to litigate cases against each and every litigating division of the Department of Justice, I seldom saw a minority attorney representing the government across the negotiating table or in federal court. That was puzzling to me since I knew there are talented minority attorneys all across the country.
As Deputy Attorney General, one of my priorities will be to work on diversifying the ranks of the Department. The Department has a diversity plan that was developed by Attorney General Reno and my predecessor, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. Attorney General Ashcroft and I are dedicated to making the Department&'s diversity plan work in as meaningful and effective a way as possible. We are even looking at ways that the plan can be improved to make certain that our diversity efforts can be accelerated.
We plan to do this, not only for the legal divisions at Justice, but also for the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals and all other agencies at the Department. This effort is extremely important. NBA Board member Sheryl Robinson has agreed to work with me on this and other efforts. I look forward to working with her.
The Department of Justice must continue to earn and maintain the trust and respect of all citizens, regardless of their backgrounds. These diversity efforts are essential, I believe, to this effort. And, having just a representative cadre of talented african- american lawyers at all levels at the department of justice will dramatically enhance african americans&' influence in important national matters.
It is also important that the Department of Justice address prevalent issues that adversely affect minority communities. One of these issues is racial profiling.
Many of us have our own stories of profiling. I know I have mine.
Racial profiling is generally understood to mean the improper use of race as a basis for law enforcement action. Racial profiling is wrong and it is unconstitutional.
It is really a compound fracture when you examine it; it erodes trust in law enforcement while inflicting injury on the people law enforcement officers are sworn to protect. This Administration is committed to eliminating the practice of racial profiles at all levels of law enforcement.
In February of this year, President Bush directed the Attorney General to review the policies and practices of all Federal law enforcement agencies with regard to racial profiling. The Attorney General directed me to conduct this review. We plan to complete this by the end of summer. the review will determine the nature and extent of racial profiling by federal law enforcement authorities. We have identified and surveyed 69 federal agencies with law enforcement authority. Together, these agencies employ approximately 88,000 individuals who exercise law enforcement authority. Our review will describe the types of contact between federal law enforcement officers and the public; review the policies in federal agencies regarding racial profiling, including efforts to eliminate the practice through rules, guidance, training or discipline.
In completing efforts at eliminating racial profiling, we will be working with professional groups like the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and, hopefully, the National Bar Association.
The Attorney General and I believe that we must do everything possible to ensure the just and equal administration of our nation&'s laws. There is no place in American law enforcement for judging the guilt or innocense of citizens by the color of their skin.
When you talk about eliminating racial profiling you are really talking about a fundamental civil rights issue. But, a basic right that every citizen should have is the right to safety and security in their homes and neighborhoods. Violent crime interferes with this basic right, especially for some of our minority and low income citizens against whom violent crime has a disproportionate impact.
For example, Bureau of Justice Statistics figures show that for the year 2000 racial minorities experienced a violent crime rate that was 17% higher than that for whites. And, shockingly, in 1999, the per capita rate of homicide victimization was 7 times higher among African-Americans than among whites or other minorities. And, 94% of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks.
To help combat violent crime and especially gun crime, the President has established the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. Under this Project, U.S. Attorneys will establish strategic partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to launch an aggressive attach on gun violence. Funding will be used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators, provide training and, importantly, promote community outreach efforts.
We must take violent and repeat offenders out of circulation, especially those who use guns in committing crimes.
Many of our citizens continue to be literally terrorized by violent crime. The Department of Justice should play a leading role in attacking this problem. At stake is the well-being of millions of citizens and even the lives of some of them.
HANDLING OUR DIFFERENCES
This leads me to some thoughts about a meeting I had a few months ago - in fact it was during my first couple of days in office - when I had an opportunity to meet with your President, Evett Simmons, and members of the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color. I came away from that meeting impressed by the activities that the NBA and other bar associations have been involved in this past year.
As I consider the theme for this year - National Bar Association - From Social Engineer to Economic Engineer, the Next Frontier - I thought about how appropriate and timely the theme is. I was reminded of how important NBA lawyers are to this country. This theme speaks to the fact that we must continue striving and moving forward to reach our individual and collective goals.
Like other groups, I am pleased to see that we in our community are beginning to look past our differences and find common ground on important issues. There will always be differences between and among us. Some of us are Catholic and some are Baptist; some of us are Democrat and some are Republican; some of us are deltas and others are alphas or zetas.
But, at the end of the day, I believe we all understand that we need to keep our eye on the prize and not on our differences. From my experiences throughout the country, National Bar Association members are leading the way in this approach.
As African-Americans, we know better than anyone that we are not a monolithic people. And we should not allow anyone to try to put all of our thoughts into one column or fit all of our dreams into one box.
A young lawyer at the Department said it best when she told me, "Mr. Thompson, we need not be of one mind on every issue as long as we are always of one purpose."
I personally look forward to my continued relationship with the National Bar Association and my many friends who are members. The Department, generally, and I, specifically, will appreciate this association&'s counsel and advice.
Some of the finest lawyers, judges, law students and scholars are in this room tonight. I thank you for all that you have done and look forward to working with you as we use our professional skills to strengthen and make our community better.