Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at the 2018 Department of Justice Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Program
Washington, DC
United States
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you, John for that kind introduction, and thank you for your service to this Department. Your Civil Rights colleagues are doing great work. 

I want to thank Richard for his service, our Junior ROTC Members for presenting the flag, and Rhea Walker for once again lending her beautiful voice to a Department of Justice celebration.

I also want to thank Dorie Ladner  for being here with us. 

And thank you to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, and FBI Director Chris Wray for being here. 

These are, first of all, wonderful human beings, strong leaders committed to making this the best Department of Justice it can be.

And thank you to our keynote speaker, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. 

Larry, welcome back to the Department.  Larry and I were U.S. Attorneys together when President Reagan and Congress established Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday, back in 1983. 

We all look forward to hearing your remarks this morning.

And of course I want to thank everyone here for joining us to honor the memory and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King—to “remember, celebrate, and act.”

Dr. King was never elected to office or held any government title.  But he helped change our legal system by inspiring some of the transformative laws that we in this building enforce today. 

Those include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

It is important for us who enforce these laws to remember how things were before they were enacted.

When I was growing up, I regularly saw raw, unvarnished discrimination against a whole people because of the color of their skin.

I grew up attending all-white, public segregated schools. 

I saw evidence of discrimination virtually every day.

Schools were separate and clearly unequal.  There was open wage discrimination.  Police and Sheriff’s offices were often all or virtually all white. 

Black citizens were often, blatantly, and systematically denied the right to vote.  African-Americans were denied the very basic rights of citizenship. That was a fact. It was not that long ago.

I can remember riding on an all-white school bus and passing an all-black school bus.  Just one look at that bus was enough to know that separate was not equal.

We were living under a system that was corrupt and immoral.

Dr. King exposed that system for what it was—to the country and to the world— and helped end it by putting it to shame.

He was inspired by two sources above all others: the Founders of this country and the Christian faith that he preached.

He preached no new commandment, but that which was from the beginning. 

He gave new vigor of expression to timeless ideas recorded centuries before in our Declaration of Independence and on the well-worn pages of his Bible. 

He fought for the timeless notion that there is a higher law of right and wrong—written on our hearts—that sits in judgment of the laws we pass.  And he fought for the belief, as Lincoln put it, that right makes might.

His was an openly religious movement.  As he put it: “each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state…they are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God.”

He might have looked outnumbered.  After all, he was just a young preacher.  His opponents had the power of the establishment, the state, and firehoses, clubs, and guns.  All he had were his words and the power of truth. 

But he was relentless—relentless even unto death.  His message, his life, and his death changed hearts and minds.  Those changed souls then changed the laws of this land.

He was harassed, threatened, beaten, stabbed, imprisoned nearly 30 times, and his home was bombed.  But through it all, he refused to sink to violent retaliation.

As he himself put it, “you can't reach good ends through evil means."

You must know this peaceful approach was controversial even then.  Violence was in the air.  It was a dangerous time. 

His leadership, his method of demanding change and justice was of monumental importance.

Though he was taken from us, no assassin could silence him.  His voice still echoes in the laws and institutions he influenced—including the Department of Justice.

Indeed, while he led the movement, the Department of Justice became the engine for making the dream a reality.

Whatever you do here at this Department, let us all renew our dedication to promoting justice—whether that’s by protecting law-abiding people from crime or defending their rights in court.

Today we celebrate and we remember.  Then we will go forth to act.

Now I have the privilege of introducing someone who has been my friend for more than 30 years, an accomplished and respected attorney whom I really admire: Larry Thompson.

Of course, in this building, we know him primarily as a former Deputy Attorney General.

I’m sure many people in this room worked for him.  He had the difficult task of helping to lead this Department after the 9/11 attacks, after which he led the National Security Coordination Council.

And in the wake of the Enron cases, President Bush asked him to lead the government-wide Corporate Fraud Task Force. 

Under his strong leadership, the Department secured more than 250 corporate fraud convictions and won more than $85 million in restitution.

As U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, he helped start the Southeastern Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and served on the Attorney General’s Economic Crime Council. 

We were U.S. Attorney neighbors then.  The plan was to have regional OCDETF organizations, but leaders weren’t clearly chosen.  Others thought they should lead, but a group called a meeting and ‘elected’ Larry.

We became friends and, yes, Virginia, it is true, that at a time of budget cuts, imbued with the Reagan spirit, we also shared a room—to save money.

Larry also has extensive experience in academia—with the Brookings Institution and now the University of Georgia.  Larry Thompson represents the best of American law. 

He has reached the highest levels of private practice, the highest levels of public practice, and he continues to give of himself for the national interest.

He served as Executive Vice President of Pepsi, as partner with King and Spalding (with Griffin Bell, Chris Wray, and Jody Hunt), at HUD, and he led Congress’ Judicial Review Commission on Foreign Asset Control. 

His list of accomplishments goes on and on.  But I know that his time at the Department of Justice has been his favorite.

Let’s all give Larry Thompson a warm welcome back.

Updated February 23, 2018