David Boies (LL.M. ’67), chairman and founder of Boies, Schiller & Flexner and a renowned litigator who has argued some of the most high-profile cases of recent decades, addressed New York University’s Class of 2013 on May 22 during the University’s 181st Commencement Exercises at Yankee Stadium.
Introducing Boies to the jubilant crowd, Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law, said that Boies had “exercised sweeping influence in the nation and its profession of law by tackling the most crucial issues of our time.” Yoshino cited Boies’s involvement in Westmoreland v. CBS, United States v. Microsoft, and Bush v. Gore, adding, “Now you are engaged in the defining civil-rights struggle of this generation, leading the charge for marriage equality as Hollingsworth v. Perry—the federal constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8—awaits a ruling by the United States Supreme Court.” NYU President John Sexton, Law School dean emeritus and Benjamin F. Butler Professor of Law, then addressed Boies as a “devoted alumnus, pivotal figure in your profession, and arguably the lawyer of the century,” and conferred upon him an honorary Doctorate of Laws.
Boies, a Law School Trustee, acknowledged the challenge of delivering a memorable commencement speech, saying that, among other reasons such addresses are forgettable, “we tend to talk on a day like this in platitudes. Keep learning. Change the world. Don’t be afraid to fail. The problem is that it’s too easy to dismiss platitudes.... One of the platitudes of our country is that all people are created equal. One of the platitudes of our country is that every person has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are engaged today in a civil rights struggle to try to end the last official bastion of discrimination in this country where the government discriminates against its own citizens.” Mentioning the violence and officially sanctioned discrimination that gays and lesbians have historically faced, including an executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower barring them from federal employment, Boies said, “We’ve come a long way since then, but we have a long way still to go.”
He freely acknowledged that the forthcoming ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry might not be the end of the battle. “I can’t tell you today how the Supreme Court is going to rule in June, but what I can tell you is that if we don’t win it in Perry, we will continue the fight until we do win it,” said Boies. “No civil rights struggle proceeds in a straight line. There are reverses, and there have been many reverses in this civil rights struggle already. But fundamentally we are right, because as everyone knows at the platitude stage, everyone is entitled to equal protection, and we have as a society only succeeded in ignoring that because we have been able to characterize people—women, African Americans, people of different religions, and people of different sexual orientations—as different. They are not. We know it, they know it, and someday the United States Supreme Court will recognize it.”
Posted on May 23, 2013