DeLauro, Clyburn, Meeks, Clarke, Torres Introduce Legislation to Honor Constance Baker Motley

Feb 18, 2022


February 18, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC — Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-06), Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), and Congressman Ritchie Torres (NY-15) today introduced the Congressional Tribute to Constance Baker Motley Act of 2022, legislation to honor the life of civil rights pioneer Judge Constance Baker Motley by posthumously awarding her with a Congressional Gold Medal.

“Constance Baker Motley was a pathbreaker and changemaker,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The daughter of immigrants and a native of New Haven, she broke barriers throughout her legal career and made history when she became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. Judge Motley would have celebrated her 100th birthday last year and, as we celebrate Black History Month, a Congressional Gold Medal would be a fitting distinction to honor a woman who served as an exemplary model of leadership and perseverance throughout her life. I am proud to join my colleagues Majority Whip Clyburn and Representatives Meeks, Clarke, and Torres in recognizing the legacy of Constance Baker Motley.”

“Constance Baker Motley was a pioneer and key legal strategist of the civil rights movement. She not only led efforts on behalf of the broader Black community, but she was instrumental in the implementation of laws we rely on today to protect every American’s civil and human rights,” said House Majority Whip Clyburn. “Her 20-year career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was spent desegregating Southern schools, buses, and lunch counters. And, as the only woman on the legal team of the landmark Brown v Board of Education case, she helped lay the groundwork for ending Jim Crow. Constance Baker Motley’s successful argument of nine of ten cases before the U.S. Supreme Court opened doors for Black people – the same closed doors she often herself experienced.  And, as the first Black woman to later serve as a federal judge, it is fitting and my honor to join my colleagues in paying tribute to Constance Baker Motley with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

“I am honored to join my colleagues in calling for a Congressional tribute to Constance Baker Motley. Motley became the first Black woman federal judge, the first woman to be elected to the New York State Senate, and the first woman to become Manhattan Borough President. As a civil rights leader and an accomplished Black woman of many ‘firsts,’ it is only fitting that we celebrate her accomplishments during Black History Month with Women’s History Month following shortly thereafter,” said Congressman Gregory W. Meeks.

“Judge Constance Baker Motley was a revolutionary shero who elevated our nation to higher grounds. She was a brilliant civil rights lawyer who dedicated her life in service to others and to bettering America. Judge Motley took on high profile cases, including representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and arguing successfully for school integration in Mississippi and defending the rights of women sports reporters. She was a trailblazer who changed the moral landscape of our society despite the real threats to her own life. Judge Motley quietly lifted us higher, even making time to mentor young Black women following in her footsteps. As the first Black woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court, the first elected to the state Senate in New York, and the first woman elected Manhattan Borough president, Judge Motley is one of the most important figures in American history. I am honored to join the chorus calling for her to receive a Congressional Gold Medal. Judge Constance Baker Motley spent a lifetime in service to our nation, and to improve the lives of African Americans. She changed our nation’s history and the Congressional Gold Medal is a fitting tribute to her legacy,” said Congresswoman Clarke.

“The legacy of Judge Constance Baker is one of deep commitment to equality, respect, and justice,” said Congressman Torres. “As the first Black woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court, the first elected to the State Senate of New York, and the first to serve as Manhattan Borough President, Judge Motley has been a personal inspiration to me as a Black man in public service. This Congressional Tribute only solidifies the legacy she left behind as a civil rights leader whose powerful contributions will be remembered for years to come. This Black History Month, I am proud to join my colleagues to honor her dedication to civil rights, mentorship, and public service.”

A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Constance Baker Motley was born the ninth of 12 children to immigrant parents. After graduating from New York University and receiving her J.D. from Columbia Law School, she began her career as a staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. There, she fought tirelessly for two decades alongside Thurgood Marshall and other leading civil rights lawyers to dismantle segregation throughout the United States.

Constance Baker Motley was the first Black woman to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court and was the only female attorney on the Legal Defense Fund legal team that won the landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. Motley argued ten major civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, winning all but one.

She then went on to become the first African American woman to serve in the New York State Senate and later was elected President of the Borough of Manhattan. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the Federal Appeals Court of the Southern District of New York, making her the first Black woman in history to serve as a federal judge. In 1986, she assumed senior status and continued to serve on the bench with distinction for nearly two decades.

In 2005, Constance Baker Motley passed away at the age of 84. Through her relentless commitment to equality, respect, and justice, Constance Baker Motley served as an exemplary model of leadership and perseverance.

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