Lafayette-Acadiana Chapter Of The Federal Bar Association Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of The Civil Rights Act And The Criminal Justice Act
LAFAYETTE, La.–United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley, along with two other guest speakers, spoke today at a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the Criminal Justice Act. The event was hosted by the Lafayette-Acadiana Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and was held at the John M. Shaw Federal Courthouse.
United States Attorney Finley was one of the speakers; she recounted the history of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act from the end of the Civil War to the present. Finley said that even though great strides have taken place in the last 50 years, she asked those present to remain vigilant in the defense of civil and voting rights. She emphasized the brutality, challenges and struggles that our nation faced as it tried to implement both Acts. Finley thanked the attorneys present and other public servants present for their past and current work in protecting the rights of all Americans, adding that everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly. She said the U.S. Department of Justice is committed to protecting the public’s rights hard won by those during the era of the mid-1960s.
Freddie Pitcher Jr., Chancellor of Southern University Law Center and a retired 19th Judicial District Court and First Circuit Court of Appeal Judge, recounted the events close to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. He urged students to study the history of the Acts, and asked them to understand how the Acts and other legislation have changed the country and provided every student with “the ability to become what you want to be.”
The last speaker was G. Paul Marx, 15th Judicial District Court of Louisiana District Public Defender Supervisor, who spoke about the importance of the Criminal Justice Act and having a strong public defender’s office. He recounted some history of the public defender’s office, and said that a strong public defender’s office helps ensures that the rights of the people remain protected.
The Northside High School Mock Trial Team reenacted portions of the Brown v. Board of Education trial of 1954 at the conclusion of the event. They took on the roles of the witnesses and attorneys in the case, and recited selected portions of the trial transcripts. Northside High School teacher, Liz Tullier, advises the Mock Trial Team.
“We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go in the way of true civil rights,” said Elwood Stevens, current president of the Acadiana Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. “It was a very powerful program, and I’m pleased to be a part of it. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of our speakers: Judge Pitcher, U.S. Attorney Finley, Paul Marks and the Northside High School Mock Trial Team.”
The Civil Rights Act was signed into law on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and ended legal segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also blazed a trail for subsequent related legislation: the Voting Right Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fulfilling the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Act authorized the Department of Education to assist with school desegregation and permits the U.S. Attorney General to file lawsuits to desegregate schools. Additionally, the Act prohibits the unequal application of voting requirements, established the Community Relations Service, and gives enhanced authority to the Commission of Civil Rights.
In the years since the Civil and Voting Rights Act was signed, the goal to attain their intended implementation is ongoing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office played and continues to play a pivotal role in the administration and enforcement of civil rights. Along with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has jurisdiction to bring cases under the Civil Rights Act and other related federal statutes.
Finley is the first female U.S. Attorney to serve in Louisiana. She was selected by President Barack Obama in January of 2010, after being recommended by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June of 2010. United States Attorney Finley was sworn into office on June 2, 2010 to serve the Western District of Louisiana as the chief law enforcement officer for 42 of the state’s 64 parishes.
“It is always an honor to be asked to participate in a celebration of the Civil Rights Act and the Criminal Justice Act,” Finley stated. “We take time whenever we can to remember the struggles of those who fought for the passage of these Acts. There is not enough we could ever say or do that can repay those who suffered and struggled for the freedoms that we now enjoy, whether they were on the front line, or the bench, or parents who were teaching children to treat all people fairly.”
The board members for the Lafayette-Acadiana Chapter of the Federal Bar Association are: Doug Truxillo, President Emeritus, Elwood C. Stevens, President, Gary J. Russo, Immediate Past President, Kenneth W. DeJean, President Elect, Joel Babineaux, Treasurer, Jerome Moroux, Membership Chairman, Honorable Mildred E. Methvin, Honorable Robert Summerhays, Heather Edwards, Jaclyn Bridges-Bacon, Nadia de la Houssaye, and John P. Roy.