Proceedings, Debates of the U.S. Congress
DEATH OF JUDGE A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM
(Extensions of Remarks - December 18, 1998)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E2346-E2347] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] DEATH OF JUDGE A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM ______ HON. MAXINE WATERS of california in the house of representatives Friday, December 18, 1998 Ms. WATERS. Mr. Speaker, I am deeply saddened to bring to my colleagues' attention the death of my good friend, Judge A. Leon Higginbotham on Monday, December 14, 1998. Judge Higginbotham was one of the ``true giants'' of the civil rights struggle. Judge Higginbotham was a leading legal scholar, author, historian and professor in addition to his stellar twenty-nine year career on the federal bench. Judge Higginbotham believed that the law was the vehicle to right the wrongs he experienced growing up under segregation. According to stories that Judge Higginbotham often recounted, the President of Purdue University flatly told him in his freshman year of college that the school was not required under law to provide black students with heated dormitories and, therefore, never would. The Judge said that particular experience persuaded him to become a lawyer. Judge Higginbotham was committed to a practice of law which he viewed as a commitment to social justice. He held deep convictions and continually fought for the underdog. He argued for justice and fairness. Judge Higginbotham was a friend to members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He was always available with an analysis of the issue that only he could articulate. Judge Higginbotham helped us with many projects after his retirement from the bench. The most notable was his preparation of an amicus brief in the voting rights case Shaw vs. Reno. Judge Higginbotham was a frequent witness here on Capitol Hill. His most recent testimony was two weeks ago, Tuesday, December 1, 1998, in front of the House Judiciary Committee. As he often did, Judge Higginbotham provided clear, insightful testimony. In his opening statement, he asked the Members to listen to ``Luther Standing Bear, a member of the Lakota Tribe, who said, `Thought comes before speech' when dealing with one of the most important constitutional issues which this committee will ever have, to pause and to give thought before you speak and before you vote,'' truer words have never been spoken. ``I am pleased to have broken protocol at the end of Judge Higginbotham's opening statement to give him a rousing round of applause. Who would have thought this would be the last time I would see this great man alive?'' Recently Judge Higginbotham has stated that he felt many of the advances he had applauded over his long legal career were endangered by the cutbacks in affirmative action and reduced opportunities for black lawyers and judges. He further stated in an article in The New York Times Magazine, ``I witnessed the birth of racial justice in the Supreme Court and here now, after 45 years as a lawyer, judge and law professor, I sometimes feel as if I am watching justice die.'' When I read today that Judge Higginbotham's first meeting with former Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall was during the ominous Sweatt vs. Paine Supreme Court case, I realized his previous statement was hauntingly true. The 1950 case was whether the court should compel the state of Texas to admit a black student to the University of Texas Law School. The 1995 Supreme Court case, Hopwood vs. State of Texas, was about a white student suing the University of Texas Law School for admission above their affirmative action rules. It scares me, as it scared Judge Higginbotham to see this happen right before my eyes. I have long been a proponent of affirmative action, but I am even more resolute in my fight to ensure the continuation of affirmative action to make Judge A. Leon Higginbotham's legacy is never abandoned. We cannot sit idly by and allow affirmative action in the United States to [[Page E2347]] be erased. Judge A. Leon Higginbotham's legacy is too important. ____________________