The Young Lawyers Conference released a statement on Juneteenth. The statement is reproduced below:
The Young Lawyers Conference (YLC) remembers that on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated “that all persons held as slaves . . . are, and henceforward shall be free.” This Proclamation was not fully enforced until June 19, 1865, when a Union general read federal orders to effectuate the Proclamation in Texas. This event is commemorated as Freedom Day, or Juneteenth.
The promise of freedom, however, eventually required three constitutional amendments. The Fifteenth Amendment prevented states from denying the foundational right in our democracy, the right to vote, “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Thirteenth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution were necessary to fully abolish slavery and to undo the Supreme Court’s pernicious ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African Americans were not entitled to American Citizenship and to the rights and privileges afforded by the U.S. Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment made clear that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are citizens and that no State shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Despite the Fourteenth Amendment, States still enacted laws to mandate discrimination against African American people, and the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson legitimized such discrimination under a theory of “separate but equal.” It would be nearly sixty years before the Supreme Court determined in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” constituting a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1964, Congress determined that there was more to be done to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, and it passed the Civil Rights Act.
Nevertheless, nearly sixty years later, work remains to be done to provide equal protection under the law to all persons in the United States. We acknowledge that laws and policies have been enacted, defended, and upheld in ways that have undermined the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and that those laws and policies have caused untold harm to minority communities. As lawyers, when we swore the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we committed to continuing this work of fulfilling the promise of liberty and justice for all. The mission of the YLC is to uphold the Rule of Law and the equal protection of all persons. Watch this space in the coming weeks as we, joining with the Diversity Conference @vsbdc, provide forums for lawyers and the public to engage in dialogue on relevant issues in the weeks and months to come. These forums will educate lawyers on the perspectives in the conversation, train them on the constitutional issues that we encounter, and build plans of action to improve society and bring its benefits to the many. We hope you will join us.