FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 2, 2006
Senators Schumer And Clinton Introduce Bill To Award Judge Constance Baker Motley Congressional Gold Medal
Constance Baker Motley, first African-American woman, and only fifth woman to serve on federal judiciary
U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton introduced a bill to posthumously award a congressional gold medal to Judge Constance Baker Motley, who passed away last September. Before becoming a judge, she was renowned civil rights lawyer, public servant, and steadfastly committed to social justice.
“A Congressional Gold Medal for Judge Constance Baker Motley will pay a great tribute to this American trailblazer and civil rights hero. Constance Baker Motley was a tough minded and determined lawyer and later judge who broke down barriers throughout her distinguished career.” Schumer said. “She was a focused, motivated and very effective advocate and spokeswoman for civil rights and social justice and she should be given this top honor.”
“Judge Constance Baker Motley was a true pioneer. A champion of civil rights and a giant of the legal profession, she will be remembered, not only for her lasting contributions to American jurisprudence, but to our society as a whole,” Senator Clinton said. “I am proud to be part of this effort to award Judge Baker Motley the Congressional Gold Medal. An honor of this magnitude would be a fitting tribute to someone whose work and life impacted us all.”
After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from New York University and her law degree from Columbia University, Constance Baker Motley joined Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. For two decades, Constance Baker Motley worked closely with Marshall and other leading civil rights lawyers to dismantle desegregation throughout the country.
She was the only woman on the legal team that won the landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. She went on to argue 10 major civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, winning all but one of them, including James Meredith’s fight to gain admission to the University of Mississippi.
In 1964, Judge Motley became the first African-American woman elected to the New York State Senate, and in 1965, she became the first woman, to serve as a city borough president. During this time, Judge Motley worked tirelessly to revitalize the inner city and improve urban housing and public schools.
Also in the early 1960s, she successfully argued for 1,000 school children to be reinstated in Birmingham, Ala., after the local school board expelled them for demonstrating. She represented "Freedom Riders" who rode buses to test the Supreme Court's 1960 ruling prohibiting segregation in interstate transportation. During this time, she represented Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well, defending his right to march in Birmingham and Albany, Ga.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Constance Baker Motley to the Southern District of New York. She was confirmed 9 months later, over the strong opposition of Southern Senators. She rose to the position of Chief Judge in 1982, and assumed senior status four years later. She served with distinction for nearly four decades, until passed away on September 28, 2005.
Congressional gold medals are reserved for individuals worthy of the highest level of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions, particularly in the area of civil rights. Judge Motley’s life exemplifies such criteria, and she should be honored in the same way as other great leaders, including Rosa Parks (1999), Dr. Dorothy Height (2003), and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King (2004).
The bill, which will posthumously award a congressional gold medal to the late Judge Constance Baker Motley, was introduced on February 1, 2006, in recognition of the start of Black History Month.
Last October Senators Schumer and Clinton, along with Senators Specter and Obama, introduced a Senate Resolution recognizing Judge Motley’s 39-year tenure on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and her lifelong commitment to the advancement of civil rights and social justice. The resolution, which has 27 co-sponsors, passed with unanimous consent that same week.