Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Meeting With United States Attorneys.

July 08, 1964

Mr. Attorney General and Mrs. Kennedy, ladies and gentlemen:

With your wives and children here this morning this almost has the appearance of another White House press conference. As for those of you who left your families at home, maybe you can get a good lawyer to defend you when you return.

We are very proud and very glad to have you, and I am greatly honored to welcome you here to your house.

Someone once said that lawyers are like bread--they are best when they are young and fresh. I know that this country is very fortunate to have so many unusually able young lawyers giving their fresh talents and their energies to the cause of justice in this country today.

At the same time, I know that you are fortunate, too.

You are serving in an unusually creative, landmark era. Our society's concepts of justice are undergoing a historic advance and substantial enlargement. Your own contributions in this field are both significant and substantial.

Many trends of these times seem to be submerging the identity and the dignity of the individual. On the one hand, the trend in our laws, in our courts, and in the administration of justice is to serve and to save that identity and dignity.

We welcome that trend. I applaud the courage of those who are helping to help make and break new ground in this regard.

In the courtrooms of the United States, you represent no individual but you represent the Government of your country. Yet, in the strictest sense, you are not the Government's attorneys but you are always the peoples' advocates. That is why your service is so vital and so decisive to the quality of freedom our people are to enjoy in the years that are ahead of us.

In your conferences here in Washington, I know you are discussing and considering many matters of immediate concern to your official responsibilities. If I may, I would like to express this morning some personal thoughts to you in regard to how I feel about your leadership.

First, I hope that both as public officials and as private citizens you will be restless champions of the cause of equal justice for the poor as well as for the rich. Our outstanding Attorney General, Mr. Robert Kennedy, has performed a most remarkable service for our Nation in awakening our national conscience in this regard. No one knows better than you the disadvantage of the underprivileged in our courtrooms. So I hope that you will join the Attorney General and give all of us your strong support in helping to overcome this outstanding inequity.

Second, I want you to know that we look to you to be leaders outside, as well as inside, the courtroom in helping to achieve the full value and the full meaning of the new Civil Rights Act passed by more than two-thirds of the votes of the Congress of the United States and signed by the President.

In our times there has been no greater challenge to responsible, articulate citizens than to make this law the landmark of human justice that it deserves to be. The task cannot be discharged perfunctorily, and certainly it cannot be discharged in any punitive spirit. All of you have a great opportunity as Americans as well as United States Attorneys to participate in this new undertaking.

Third, I would like to say to you this morning--at least express the hope--that as you are steadfast in the defense of civil rights that you will be equally steadfast in defense of civil liberties. We do not seek and we do not want--and the conscience of the American people will never tolerate--a concept of justice which seeks convictions at the expense of human decency and at the expense of liberty and at the expense of privacy. The American system of justice can never serve a free state by borrowing from the techniques of the totalitarian state.

These are three points that I would like to leave with you as a result of our brief meeting here.

There is much more that I would like to take the time to say to you, but I was once told by an old lawyer friend of mine that two thousand years ago Plato said that a lawyer is always in a hurry, so I think I will just say we are pleased to have you here; we are proud of your achievements. In the long period of Government service that it has been my opportunity to participate in, I have never known a time when I thought we had more dedicated personnel representing the interests of all of our people in the courtrooms than we have now, better prepared, better qualified, or better led.

So, if the lawyer is always in a hurry, I will let you hurry on with your remaining schedule, and I thank you very much for coming here.

Note: The President spoke in the East Room at the White House to a group of U.S. Attorneys and their families, in Washington for an annual meeting, and officials of the Department of Justice. His opening words referred to Attorney General and Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy. The Attorney General introduced the President to the group.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Meeting With United States Attorneys. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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