Thank you, Deputy Attorney General [Sally] Yates, for that warm introduction – and for your extraordinary partnership and service. And thank you to Deputy Assistant Attorney General [Mari Barr] Santangelo and our colleagues in the Justice Management Division for working to make this event possible. It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to this year’s Attorney General’s Awards ceremony. I especially want to welcome those of you who have joined us today to celebrate our exceptional awardees – the family and friends who have supported them, cheered them and loved them. Thank you for sharing these talented public servants with us, and I am so glad you could be here.
Before we salute your wonderful work, I’d like to take a moment to remember our former leader, Attorney General Janet Reno. Like you, she devoted her life to public service and like you, she always strove to do what was required by the law, regardless of what was politically expedient or popular. Her passing on Monday reminded our department and our nation that she has left a legacy of service that will endure far beyond her lifetime. It is also an important reminder of the timeless nature of the work of this department, as so many of today’s accomplishments build on initiatives that began during her historic tenure as Attorney General, and much of our important ongoing work took root under her leadership. We invite all of you to share your memories and thoughts in the condolence book we have placed in the library foyer on the fifth floor of the Main Justice building. You can do so through next Friday, November 18.
This is one of my favorite events of the year. It is a rare yet important opportunity to honor the efforts of outstanding department employees and our invaluable partners across the federal government and at the state and local levels. It is an opportunity to come together as one Justice Department family and remind ourselves that although, like all families, we may have our disagreements and our differences, at the end of the day, we share one goal: to protect our country, to uphold the law, and to protect the rights and liberties of all Americans. That work is long and arduous, and it takes place over not just days and months, but years and decades. It passes through the hands of many different employees, it crosses the desks of multiple attorneys general and it is handed from one administration to the next. And while some policies and priorities may shift over the span of time or the turn of the electoral wheel, all who serve beneath the seal of this Department of Justice are united by a love of country and a commitment to service regardless.
The 423 remarkable individuals we honor today have demonstrated that patriotism and selflessness to an extraordinary degree. You represent a rich diversity of service: from law enforcement agents to lawyers, from paralegals to librarians, from field agents to international negotiators. Your ranks include new employees bringing fresh energy and initiative, as well as veteran managers who have provided wisdom and judgment to the department for decades. Some of you are political appointees who only recently joined the department; others are career employees who have made a professional home at the Department of Justice. You have developed trainings to assist state and local law enforcement better serve their communities. You have curbed the flow of illegal firearms, the sales of weapons of mass destruction, and the distribution of child pornography. You have advanced innovative collaborations to address the heroin and opioid epidemic that is causing so much pain and devastation in our country. Your work has improved New York City’s jail systems, particularly for young men detained at Rikers Island, and it has opened schoolhouse doors to children all across the United States. Your work has made our nation – and our world – stronger, safer, and more just, and I am proud of and inspired by each and every one of you.
I want to take a moment to recognize two groups of awardees in particular. Today, we honor the team of U.S. Marshals from the Northern District of Indiana, who, while tracking a dangerous fugitive to an apartment building, bravely aided a Chicago Police Department captain who had been struck by gunfire. You brought the injured captain to a nearby apartment and evacuated him to safety, all the while under fire from the fugitive. Thanks to your courageous work, the captain survived, and the fugitive was apprehended. Your bravery, your valor, and your strength remind us of the incredible dangers that we ask our law enforcement officers to confront each and every day – dangers that you confront without hesitation or reservation.
We also express our gratitude to the team that successfully investigated and prosecuted the case against the surviving perpetrator of the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks. You undertook this emotional, complex, and high-stakes case with quiet dedication. You forged a tightly knit team from a wide array of law enforcement agencies, and together, you built an incredible body of evidence. When you tried the case in court, you spoke not simply for this department – you spoke for the people of Boston and this great nation who sought justice for this cold-blooded and cowardly attack. And I am so pleased to honor your work in this case with the newly named Attorney General’s David Margolis Award for Exceptional Service. In renaming our highest award in honor of our late colleague and friend David, we remember and honor his 50 years of service to the department: how his passion, commitment and wisdom embodied the very ideal for which our department is named. And I know he would be thrilled that you have won this award bearing his name. He was so proud of your work on this case.
Of course, the Department of Justice is the only cabinet agency named after an ideal – and what an ideal it is. As each of you know all too well, there is no compromise or convenience in its pursuit. Your efforts have led many of you to face down danger at great personal risk – inside the apartment building hiding an armed fugitive, or hot on the trail of suspects who abducted two children at gunpoint. It has taken you from the Crow Reservation in Montana to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. And it has placed you at the cutting edge of the law, where you have apprehended criminals using the Dark Internet; prosecuted the first Article III trial of a foreign terrorist in the United States; and persuaded the Supreme Court that our Constitution guarantees marriage equality. But no matter where your work has taken you, it has made a real and lasting difference in the strength of our society and the lives of our people. You have made justice real for so many. And the heart of justice is not just the cases that we make, but the people that we help. It is the lives that we save. And it is the hope that we bring to those who thought there was no one there to fight for them. But you were there, and words cannot express how proud I am of you.
You have gone to such great lengths not because you expect thanks or recognition, but because you know that our cause is a noble one. It is a cause that is greater than any one of us – a cause that we are truly privileged to be able to own for the day and then pass forward. It is the cause of upholding the rights this country was established to protect – the rights of liberty and equality for all. It is the cause of dismantling prejudice and discrimination; ending terror and violence; promoting security and opportunity; and of protecting the weak from the strong. It is the cause of striving towards a more just, a more equal and a more perfect union. And thanks to your tireless efforts, the cause still lives. The future we leave for our children is brighter than the one our parents inherited. Our march towards justice continues.
As I preside over these awards for the last time as the Attorney General of these United States, I thank you for devoting yourselves to the cause of justice. I thank you for keeping faith with the promise of our country. And I thank you for the privilege of being able to share this journey towards justice with you for this time. Congratulations on these richly deserved awards, and keep up the excellent work.