Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at Dedication Ceremony for Statue Honoring Judge J. Waties Waring
United States
Friday, April 11, 2014

Good afternoon.  It’s a privilege to join so many dedicated leaders, distinguished federal and state jurists, and passionate public servants – including Senator [Ernest] Hollings; Congressman [James] Clyburn, the Assistant Minority Leader; and Mayor [Joseph] Riley – in honoring an extraordinary leader who helped to change the course of history – and whose work set this nation on a path that we still follow today.

 At the time of Judge Waring’s landmark dissent in Briggs v. Elliott, I was less than six months old, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education was nearly three years away.  Yet because of Judge Waring’s powerful words – and the legal foundation they helped to provide – my generation would be the very first to come of age in a post-Brown America.  And we were the first that would never know a world in which “separate but equal” was the law of the land.

This seismic shift began in Clarendon County, and in five other communities across the country.  It was the result of a confluence of brave actions and courageous individuals – from Reverend Joseph Albert DeLaine, to Eliza Briggs, to Oliver Brown – who stood up and spoke out, often at great personal cost, for what they knew to be right.  It demanded the vision and resolve of civil rights pioneers, advocates, and attorneys – like Thurgood Marshall, Harold R. Boulware, Sr., and Robert Carter – to translate a growing movement into a fight for legal change.  And it necessitated the action of our courts to help realize the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under law.

 Judge Waring’s dissent in the Briggs case, and the historic Brown decision it made possible, in many ways helped to ignite the modern Civil Rights movement – giving rise to key advancements that defined the 1960s.  But even before these important decisions took shape, here on these courthouse grounds, one judge – peerless among his contemporaries, who had seen and lived through times of great injustice – knew that the “showdown,” as he put it, “was coming.”  And as he later recalled: “[t]he question arose as to whether I should dodge or meet it.”

When he wrote the groundbreaking dissent in Briggs – relying on sound legal guideposts, ample evidence, and straightforward reason to conclude that “segregation can never produce equality” – Judge Waring helped provide moral and legal clarity to one of the most volatile questions of the day.  In that opinion and so many others, he didn’t just inspire words that have been spoken across the years – he wrote them.  He took concrete steps to expand equality here in South Carolina.  And he served as an example of courage, compassion, and conviction to countless brave men and women whose rising demand for justice would not be delayed or denied.

From ending segregation in his own courtroom, to making it possible for African-American citizens to serve on a federal jury here in Charleston; from ruling for equal pay for African-American teachers, to declaring that the state had to provide the same opportunities and facilities to black students seeking a law school education; from striking down a white-only state primary, to proposing the proper vehicle for Thurgood Marshall to put the central question of Briggs to the test –  Judge Waring decisively advanced the cause of equal rights.  He challenged systems of inferiority and oppression.  And in so doing, he brought our nation closer to its highest ideals.

Judge Waring’s tenure on this court provides resounding proof that – within the framework of our strong and independent judiciary – progress is possible.  Those who are willing to march toward justice – and stand on principle – can, and do, change the world.  And although we do not choose the challenges and difficulties of our day, Judge Waring’s example reminds us that we can choose how we respond.

Today, his critical work has become our own.  And it is far from over.  From achieving justice for victims of hate crimes, to protecting every eligible American’s right to vote; from expanding protections for LGBT individuals and implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor, to making our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more effective – in everything we do, all of today’s leaders must remain determined to confront injustice wherever it is found; to hold accountable those who act out of hate; and to work together to make real the brighter future that lies just beyond the horizon.

That’s why Judge Waring’s statue belongs on this spot: to remind us what leadership requires, and what it costs; to inspire us to ask ourselves just how much we can and must achieve.

With the dedication of this monument, this remarkable man takes his rightful place in the history of this court, and of our nation.  But I believe we can do no greater honor to his memory than to carry forward the efforts that defined his life – and must continue to impel successive generations to principled action.  May each of us resolve, here and now, to do just that.

I thank you all, once again, for the chance to help celebrate Judge Waring’s memory, and honor his indelible contributions.  And I look forward to everything we’ll achieve together in the months and years to come.

Updated August 18, 2015