The great-grandson of slaves, the grandson of a murder victim, a former student of a segregated elementary school, you bear the marks of society’s long racial bias, which you have dedicated your life to extinguish. While at Harvard Law School, you joined The Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and went on to found the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. With scant resources other than your formidable drive, you have represented indigent prisoners and those who have been denied the right to vigorous defense. You have won reversals, relief, or release for more than one hundred wrongly convicted prisoners on death row. Your broader legal victories include one that eliminated excessive and unfair sentencing, another that addressed the abuse of prisoners and the mentally ill, and a third that deemed unconstitutional sentences of mandatory life without parole for children seventeen and younger. At the same time you have initiated major anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts to attack the deep, persistent roots of racial inequality. Desmond Tutu has called you America’s Nelson Mandela. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King said, “but it bends toward justice.” Impatiently you dangle, often dangerously, from the end of that arc to hasten the day when at very long last it meets the horizon.
I hereby declare you recipient of the honorary degree Doctor of Laws, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.
June 5, 2016