Lawyers Fighting Climate Change Take Inspiration from Those Who Fought for Civil Rights #ClimateLaw

On April 28, 2017, a group of leading lawyers, law professors, and law students will convene in person and on the internet at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC, for the First National Conference of Lawyers Committed to Addressing the Climate Emergency. The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Check it out at

These lawyers can take inspiration from the civil rights movement and specific events in 1963.

In June of 1963, the racial climate in parts of the United States was bad, and nowhere worse than in Alabama, where law enforcement had taken sides against the civil rights protesters with police dogs, night sticks, and fire hoses. Alabama Governor George Wallace declared that he would disregard the federal court order that prohibited interference with the admission of African-American students at the University of Alabama.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Geraldine Segal challenged her husband, attorney Bernard G. Segal: “Well, what is the bar of the nation doing about this? What should you be doing?”

Attorney Segal took his wife’s challenge seriously, and with the help of another lawyer, Jerome J. Shestack, set about calling leaders of the bar across the country. The following Tuesday, a total of forty-six lawyers from around the country joined in a statement published in two Alabama newspapers calling on the governor of Alabama to respect the rule of law.

That same day, June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech on civil rights by radio and television from the Oval Office in which he proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After that speech, he learned about the statement published by the bar leaders and issued a call to the bar for leaders of the legal community to join him for a meeting at the White House.

Later that same month, 244 leaders of the American legal community met in the White House where President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy urged the lawyers to use their training and influence to move the struggle for the protection of civil rights from the streets to the courts.

The need for action on civil rights in the summer of 1963 was undeniable. The need for action on climate change now is undeniable. Just as the support of the legal community was needed in 1963 on civil rights, so too is it now needed on climate change.

Please register to join us live or via the internet at Also, if you would like to become a financial sponsor of the conference, please contact Brett Korte at or 202-939-3852.

Photo credit: Michael M. Koehler