2012 Commencement Ceremony
May 7, 2012 —
John A. Payton, former president and director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), will be awarded a posthumous honorary degree.
Gay J. McDougall, former United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues and the Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Visiting Professor of Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center, will serve as Commencement speaker and accept the honorary degree on behalf of Payton, her late husband.
Arthur J. Gajarsa, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, will also receive an honorary degree.
2012 Georgetown Law Commencement Ceremony
Sunday, May 20, 2012, 2:00 p.m.
Georgetown University Main Campus
37th and O Streets, NW
Washington, D.C. 20057
(Rain Site: McDonough Arena on Main Campus)
Payton served as president and director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) from 2008 until his death in March 2012. He will receive the first posthumous degree awarded by the Law Center in more than a quarter century.
During his tenure at LDF, Payton guided the organization to legal victories in Lewis v. City of Chicago, in which a group of African-Americans seeking to be firefighters contended that they had properly filed a charge of discrimination against the city, and Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, which challenged the constitutionality of a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Payton attended Harvard Law School, where he served on the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Review and assisted with high-profile civil rights cases, including the defense of a 1960s NAACP-led boycott of segregationist merchants in Mississippi. He also clerked for Judge Cecil F. Poole of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco before joining the Washington, D.C., firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now WilmerHale).
Payton chose Wilmer in order to continue working on NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the Mississippi boycott case that Wilmer lawyers argued successfully before the Supreme Court. Payton went on to lead the firm’s litigation department, simultaneously handling commercial matters and some of the most important civil rights cases of our time. He took leave from Wilmer during the early 1990s to serve as the Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia.
In 2003, Payton served as lead counsel for the University of Michigan in defending the use of affirmative action in admissions. He argued Grutter v. Bollinger, a case involving the University of Michigan Law School, at the district and appellate levels; he argued Gratz v. Bollinger, a separate case involving the university's College of Literature, Science and the Arts, before the U.S. Supreme Court.
McDougall was the first United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, a position she held from 2005 to 2011, and executive director of the international NGO Global Rights from 1994 to 2006. She was also an Independent Expert on the U.N. entity that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. McDougall served as the Robert Drinan Visiting Professor of Human Rights at the Law Center during this academic year.
Gajarsa has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit since 1997. He has worked for the Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior and Department of Defense. After law school at Georgetown, Gajarsa clerked for Judge Joseph McGarraghy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and spent many years in private practice. He has served as a member of Georgetown University’s board of directors and the Law Center’s board of visitors.