"When I went to law school, nobody heard of civil rights."
Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005)
LLD 2003 (hon.)
Over fifty-plus years as a jurist, Constance Baker Motley has had a major impact on ending racial discrimination. As the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's associate counsel, she participated in writing the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., et.al., the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that ended school segregation. From October 1961 to the end of 1964, Motley won nine of the 10 civil rights cases she argued before the Court, including James Meredith's successful suit to attend the University of Mississippi. She went on to break down other gender and race barriers as the first African-American woman elected to the New York state senate (1964) and to the Manhattan borough presidency (1965). Appointed to a judgeship for the Southern District of New York in 1966, she became the first African-American woman on the federal bench and, in 1982, the first African-American woman to serve as chief judge. Motley assumed senior judge status in 1986, and in 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens' Medal in recognition of her achievements and service to the nation.