Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Patrick, Deval(1956–) - Lawyer, corporate executive, Chronology, Enters Boardroom of Multinational Corporations, Future Role in Politics

Becomes Civil Rights Advocate

patrick black law school

Patrick had garnered enough public mention and name recognition to be considered for public office in Massachusetts. In 1994, he was nominated to be the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for civil rights. President Clinton, stinging from previous failed attempts to fill the position, wanted a candidate with a moderate stance on civil rights issues that was unlikely to stir controversy. Patrick’s writings and previous caseload provided little evidence that could be used against his confirmation. He sailed though the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings with nearly unanimous confirmation. Patrick’s supporters believed that his leadership would restore credibility to the department and boost the morale of its legal staff. He assumed his new responsibilities with an emotionally stirring speech, promising to move the nation back to a consensus on civil rights.

Expectations were that Patrick, as the nation’s civil rights advocate, would concentrate heavily on enforcement in the areas of voting and civil rights. Patrick believed in strong and aggressive action tempered with compassion and fairness. Although he strongly pushed enforcement cases on many fronts, he did not shy away from more contentious and controversial cases involving racial preferences; in fact, he aggressively prosecuted them. His enforcement actions encompassed a wide spectrum of discrimination cases covering public accommodations, zoning, lending, employment, housing, and voting rights. Patrick’s ruling in one of his first cases resulted in an outcry from bankers. In an attempt to battle lending bias, he forced the Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank to spend $1$1 million to build branches and dispense low-interest loans in black neighborhoods. Bankers disagreed with Patrick’s interpretation of the intent of the law particularly since there had been no previous discrimination complaints against the bank. Patrick argued that although the bank gave fair treatment to individual loan applicants, its service to the entire black community was inadequate. The case proved that Patrick was not deterred by the industry’s complaints and was well able to negotiate an agreeable compromise. His efforts ended amicably, and his skills in consensus building were highly praised.

Another case that had garnered strong support from the previous administration of George H. Bush presented a more formidable challenge for Patrick. The case involved a white teacher who had been fired in 1989 by the school board in Piscataway, New Jersey. When cutting staff from its declining business program, the school board had been forced to make a difficult choice between a black and a white teacher with equal qualifications and seniority. Patrick supported the school board’s decision to retain the black teacher. In essence, he reversed the EEOC decision on the case made during the Bush administration. When conservative Republican critics protested, Patrick argued that employers should be free to use affirmative action goals in termination decisions when candidates held equal qualifications. His critics viewed the case as a radical policy shift towards quotas. Both Patrick and President Clinton were opposed to quotas, but Patrick supported the more traditional approach of giving preference to women and other minorities. In the 1992 final ruling on the case, the judge found that the school board had violated the law. The fired teacher was awarded lost wages with interest plus compensation for pain and humiliation.

The Piscataway case generated talk of abolishing all affirmative action programs. President Clinton himself appeared to be shifting from race and gender-based programs towards programs based on economic need. Patrick refused to let his frustration interfere with his commitment to equality. He forged on with vigorous enforcement actions, including a racial discrimination case against the Denny’s restaurant chain that ended with a settlement of $54 million against the company. Patrick was also confronted with the rash burnings of black churches in the South and bursts of violence at abortion clinics. However strained the situation was, Patrick did not seem deterred by political ramifications or repercussions and continued to steadily oppose any policies that would impose limits on affirmative action.

In 1997, Patrick resigned his position with the Justice Department. He had been commuting to Washington from his home in Milton and wanted more time with his family. In addition he cited the financial limitations of federal government employment. He was ready for new challenges and experiences and was looking for a position that would offer him the opportunity to practice law on a national level. Boston’s elite law firm, Day, Berry, & Howard made him an offer that matched his expectations. He was hired as a full partner with the opportunity to continue active participation in public affairs. His responsibilities involved litigating and advising companies on disability, fair lending, and other civil rights employment issues. Patrick was in such high demand for consultation on diversity that instead of a lighter schedule, he was traveling as much as before. In addition to his duties at the law office, he was teaching at Harvard University and Boston College. He was also named a distinguished visiting professor at Stanford University where he taught a civil rights course.

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