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Days, Drew Saunders(1941–) - Lawyer, federal government official, educator, Becomes Assistant Attorney General and Solicitor General

court school rights yale

Drew S. Days III was the first African American to head the U.S. civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice when he took the position in 1977, and in 1992 he became the U.S. solicitor general under former President Bill Clinton.

Drew Saunders Days III was born on August 29, 1941, in Atlanta, Georgia. His father, Drew Saunders Days II, a graduate of Morehouse College, studied under black historian W. E. B. Dubois. Days II was an accomplished violinist and also an executive at Central Life Insurance Company, an all-black firm, founded by Mary McLeod Bethune. His mother, Dorothea Jamerson, a graduate of Talladega College, was a schoolteacher. The Days family lived in Tampa, Florida, until Days II landed a job with an insurance company in New Rochelle, New York, in the early 1950s. Days III and his younger sister attended school in both Florida and New York. He received a BA. in English literature from Hamilton College in New York in 1963 and an LLB from Yale University Law School in 1966. While at Yale, Days was a featured tenor in the Russian Chorus.

Days was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1966 and joined the Cotton, Watt, Jones, King, and Bowlus law firm in Chicago as an associate attorney. At twenty-five, Days worked as an attorney for the Illinois Civil Liberties Union on a fair-housing lawsuit in Chicago, with Martin Luther King Jr. From 1967 until 1969, he served in the Peace Corps, setting up an agricultural cooperative in Comayagua, Honduras, that is still in operation. During that time, he also worked as an interpreter for the Rockefeller Committee to Latin America. In 1969, Days joined the staff of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York City. As first assistant counsel, he litigated cases in school desegregation, police misconduct, and employment discrimination. At the age of thirty, he won a lawsuit to desegregate the Tampa schools he attended as a boy in Florida. From 1973 to 1975, Days was an associate professor of law at Temple University and taught in the summer of 1975 at the University of Ghana.

Becomes Assistant Attorney General and Solicitor General

Days was nominated in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed by the Senate to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus he became the first black to lead the civil rights or any division. His tenure was marked by an aggressive enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws in a number of areas, including police misconduct and unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, voting, and education. Days joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1981 and received tenure in 1986. In 1989 he became the founding director of the Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights Law, at the law school, and in 1992 was honored by being named the Alfred M. Rankin Professor of Law.

In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president, ending the twelve-year Republican hold on the presidency. Clinton nominated Days to be solicitor general of the United States, the second leading position in the Justice Department. He argued seventeen cases before the Supreme Court of the United States as solicitor general during President Clinton’s first term and oversaw a group of lawyers who made more than 180 appearances. During that tenure, Days successfully argued cases touching upon such diverse subjects as international tax, military and criminal law, and civil rights. One case, the historic Page 181  term limits case, U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton , No. 93-1456, held that states may not constitutionally impose term limits on congressional offices. This decision was viewed as a turning point in the national debate over federal term limits.

Fails Nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court

In 1994 when President Bill Clinton began looking for a new Supreme Court justice, Days, a Yale law professor and a black man with a distinguished career in arguing civil rights cases, was his obvious choice. But Days was apparently denied the nomination because of a decision he made earlier in a case involving child pornography.

Stephen Knox, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, had been sentenced to five years in prison for receiving in the mail and possessing three videotapes of child pornography. Days argued that the tapes did not constitute pornography because the girls in them, aged ten to seventeen, were not nude. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in the United States v. Knox , 977 F.2d 815, agreeing with the government’s position.

In a brief filed in September 1994 with the Supreme Court, the Justice Department changed its stance, arguing that the “plain meaning of the statute requires that the material must include a visible depiction of the genital or pubic area of the body” and that “the material must depict a child lasciviously engaging in sexual conduct.” The High Court dropped the case and ordered the appeals court to re-examine the matter in light of the government’s new position. Former anti-pornography prosecutors argued that the Knox case was an early sign that the Clinton administration was soft on crime and held radical legal views. By vote of one hundred to nothing, the Senate passed a resolution condemning the solicitor general’s interpretation of the law. To put out the political fire, the president sent an icy rebuke to Attorney General Janet Reno, asking that her department work with Congress to clarify the law. Some believe that the Knox case cost Days a seat on the Supreme Court.

Days remained in the post as solicitor general until 1996, and in September 1997 he joined the law firm of Morrison and Foerster. Days leads the firm’s national appellate practice with a special emphasis on the United States Supreme Court, in its Washington, D.C. office. He also teaches law in the Yale School of Law. He has published extensively, including two volumes on the Supreme Court of the United States in the third edition of Moore’s Federal Practice , a leading treatise on federal court practice and procedure.

Days has served as guest lecturer and keynote speaker on numerous occasions. In May 1996, Days delivered the commencement address at Tennessee State University. He replaced former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who was killed in a plane crash during a mission to Bosnia. He has received numerous awards and honors, including a honorary doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2003, the 1997 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association, which recognizes minority lawyers who have achieved great distinction, and the Judge Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award, to name a few. Days is a member of various organizations, including the American Law Institute, the American Bar Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been married since 1966 to Ann Ramsay Langdon, an artist and writer. They have two daughters, Alison Langdon, and Elizabeth Jamerson. The Days reside in New Haven, Connecticut.



Born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 29


Receives B.A. from Hamilton College (cum laude)


Receives L.L.B. from Yale Law School


Marries Ann Ramsay Langdon


Admitted to the Illinois Bar


Joins Cotton, Watt, Jones, King, and Bowlus law firm in Chicago; volunteers as attorney for the Illinois Civil Liberties Union; serves in the Peace Corps in Comayagua, Honduras


Serves as interpreter, Rockefeller Committee to Latin America


Serves first assistant counsel for NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York


Associate professor, Temple University


Professor, University of Ghana (Summer)


Assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, U.S. Department of Justice


Associate professor, Yale Law School


Founding director, Orville H. Schell, Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School


Appointed Alfred M. Rankin Professor, Yale Law School


Serves as solicitor general of the United States


Serves as counsel to Morrison and Foerster Law Firm in Washington, D.C.


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