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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - September 29, 2006)

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By Mr. ALLEN (for himself and Mr. Warner):

S. 4045. A bill to designate the United States courthouse located at the intersections of Broad Street, Seventh Street, Grace Street, and Eighth Street in Richmond, Virginia, as the ``Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert Merhige Jr. Courthouse''; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Mr. WARNER. I rise today to join my colleague from Virginia, Senator ALLEN, in offering a bill to name the new Richmond Courthouse for two distinguished jurists and sons of Virginia.

We are privileged in the Commonwealth to have a long history, beginning with Jamestown as the first permanent English settlement on the American Continent. As a young republic, the College of William and Mary was selected as a site for the Nation's first law school.

The two men to be honored in the naming of the new U.S. Courthouse in Richmond were lawyers who throughout their careers adhered to the principle of ``equal justice under law.''

Spottswood William Robinson, III was born in Richmond, VA on July 26, 1916. He attended Virginia Union University and then attended Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class in 1939 and serving as a member of the faculty unti1 1947.

Judge Robinson was one of the core attorneys of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 1948 to 1960, achieving national prominence in the legal community with his representation of the Virginia plaintiffs in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Brown outlawed public school segregation declaring ``separate but equal'' schools unconstitutional.

In 1964, Judge Robinson became the first African-American to be appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In 1966, President Johnson appointed Judge Robinson the first African-American to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On May 7, 1981, Judge Robinson became the first African American to serve as Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Circuit.

Judge Merhige was born in New York in 1919 and he attended college at High Point College in North Carolina. He earned his law degree from the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond, from which he graduated at the top of his class in 1942.

From 1942 to 1945, Judge Merhige served in the United States Air Force and practiced law in Richmond from 1945 to 1967, establishing himself as a formidable trial lawyer representing criminal defendants as well as dozens of insurance companies.

On August 30, 1967, Judge Merhige was appointed U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division by President Lyndon B. Johnson serving as a Federal judge unti1 1998. In 1972, Judge Merhige ordered the desegregation of dozens of Virginia school districts. He considered himself to be a ``strict constructionist'' who went by the law as spelled out in precedents by the higher courts. In 1970, he ordered the University of Virginia to admit women. As evidence of Judge Merhige's ground breaking decisions, he was given 24-hour protection by Federal marshals due to repeated threats of violence against him and his family. His courage in the face of significant opposition of the times is a testimony to his dedication to the rule of law.

Senator ALLEN and I carefully took this responsibility in naming the U.S. Federal. Courthouse in Richmond. We worked on it for several years and consulted the Virginia Bar Association and sought the views of the bench and bar. The Virginia Congressional delegation, the Virginia Bar Association, the Mayor of Richmond, and many others decided that the best way to honor both men was to have them equally share the honor of having the courthouse so named. I attach a letter from the former Virginia Governor, the current Mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder. I value greatly the views of a friend and fellow public servant and one who has joined me on many issues to benefit the people of Virginia.

I thank the Senate for the consideration of this bill and look forward to working with my colleagues seeking its passage.

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Mr. ALLEN. Mr. President, I am pleased to join with my colleague the Senior Senator from Virginia JOHN WARNER in introducing legislation to name the new Federal courthouse in Richmond, VA for two great men and leaders of the civil rights movement, Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert Merhige, Jr.

Judge Spottswood Robinson was a brilliant champion of civil rights for all Americans. As a student at Howard Law School, Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III earned the highest GPA ever achieved at the law school. Following law school, he returned to Richmond, VA to establish a law firm with another pioneer of civil rights, Oliver W. Hill. Through the years he was involved in many important civil rights cases in State and Federal courts, but it was his vital role in the seminal case of Brown v. Board of Education that placed Judge Robinson into legal history. Judge Robinson is widely recognized as the architect of the legal strategies that led to success in intergrading the nations public schools.

Judge Robinson left the private practice of law in 1960 to become Dean of the Howard Law School. In October 1963, President Kennedy nominated him to become a District Court Judge for the District of Columbia. Subsequently, Judge Robinson became the first African-American to serve as a Judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and in 1981 became the Chief Judge for the Court. Upon retiring from the Court in 1992, Judge Robinson returned to his home in Richmond and continued to be an active member of the community until his passing in 1998.

The other fine jurist who the new courthouse in Richmond will be named is another hero of the civil rights movement, Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Judge Merhige served this country for 31 years on the bench and as a member of the United States Army Air Force as a B-17 bombardier. Born in 1919, Judge Merhige attended the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond, from which he graduated at the top of his class in 1942. Over the next 21 years, Judge Merhige tried hundreds of both criminal and civil cases in both State and Federal court. He served as President of the Richmond Bar Association from 1963 to 1964.

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Judge Merhige to be a United States District Judge. Respected and admired by lawyers from coast to coast, Judge Merhige became known for his integrity and intellect. Despite the personal hardship placed on both himself and his family from those who disagreed with his rulings to enforce civil rights law, Judge Merhige continued to uphold the law and follow the constitution in the face of grave threats.

In deciding whom to name this courthouse after, I have taken great care to listen to all Virginians after securing funds for this impressive courthouse for downtown Richmond and its revitalization. I have worked with the Virginia Congressional delegation, the distinguished Mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder, State Senator Benjamin Lambert, the Virginia Bar Association, the Richmond Bar Association, and many others.

I am honored to join with my colleague Senator WARNER in ensuring that when people walk by the new Federal courthouse, they are reminded of these two distinguished jurists who helped change the face of society for the better with equal justice for all.

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