The Washington Bar Association Mourns the Passing of John Payton26-Mar-2012
The Washington Bar Association is deeply saddened by the passing of John Payton, a lawyer of remarkable skill and extraordinary dedication to the causes of civil rights and equal justice. John was a legal giant. As a result of his amazing legal career, John was awarded the Washington Bar Association’s highest award, the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit in May 2010. Moreover, during his acceptance of the award, John gave one of the most moving tributes to Charles Hamilton Houston that has been offered. During his storied career, John handled many cases that made an indelible mark on the advancement of civil rights; from his defense of the City of Richmond’s use of affirmative action in Richmond v. Croson, 488 U.S. 469 (1989) and in the Gratz and Grutter cases filed against the University of Michigan; 539 U.S. 244 (2003) and 539 U.S. 306 (2003), respectively, prevailing in the latter case.
Serving as the City’s chief lawyer from 1991 to 1994 as D. C. Corporation Counsel, John utilized his talents in many arenas. A true humanitarian, John ably served the D. C. Bar as its president from 2001 to 2002. Assuming the helm of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund as its sixth President and Director-Counsel, John never wavered in his determination to achieve equality of opportunity and justice for all Americans, especially African Americans and other racial minorities.
If I may briefly step away from all of the noteworthy achievements for which John will be historically remembered, please allow me to mention the period in 1980 when as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice I had handled and won an important school desegregation case. Following the change of administrations, the United States’ position in the case was promptly reversed as it went up to the Supreme Court and I was, in my view, deservedly outraged; a fact that I did not hesitate to relate to an inquiring Washington Post Reporter. As a result, my pending promotion to the next GS grade was delayed, although at the time, I did not know if I would ever be promoted. After discussing my case with John and his then colleague, Jim Coleman, they persuaded their senior partner to permit them to represent me had I decided to pursue litigation. At that point, John and Jim were already my heroes.
On behalf of the WBA, we extend our thoughts and prayers to John’s wife, Gay McDougall, an exceptional lawyer in her own right. We want her to know that John will always be remembered in our hearts and minds as a fierce advocate and champion of the rights and dignities of all those striving to achieve equality and justice under the law.
Iris McCollum Green, President