Remarks by Vice President Harris to the National Bar Association
South Court Auditorium
12:02 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Madam President, that means so much to me. Thank you for your friendship and your leadership. I have to tell all the members: I see if I can take personal privilege and refer to Madam President as “CK” — I see CK everywhere. She is in D.C. I see her out there fighting every day for the voices of everyone who deserves to be seen and heard. So thank you for those beautiful words.
And it is so wonderful to be with so many friends today. You know, as CK said, as Madam President said, I am a very proud former — but I think of myself still as a current member of the National Bar Association. And I want to wish everyone congratulations on the 96th convention of this august organization.
And so, let me thank again President Hoffler, President-elect Judge Carlos Moore for your leadership and for the leadership of everyone — because this is a membership of leaders.
And, you know, we all have different reasons why we became lawyers, but a lot of the same reasons, which include the values that our parents and our community instilled in us, the injustice that we witnessed around the world and in our own world, and the heroes who inspired us.
And, for me, like many of you, it was a little bit all of that. In particular, in my own family, I saw my Uncle Sherman who was one of the first African American lawyers to graduate from Boalt Hall. And, you know, Uncle Sherman, I remember, he was often the first that folks would call when they were facing a crisis or when people just couldn’t make sense of a situation. Uncle Sherman was a lawyer, and, in the spirit and with the training of this profession, he helped people, and they depended on him. And I saw that, and I watched that growing up.
And I wanted to help people. I wanted to do that. And that was one of the reasons — including Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston and Constance Baker Motley — that I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to help people and, in particular, to help remove the barriers that stood in their way — to help people everywhere to defend themselves; to define themselves, as opposed to being defined by others; and to determine their own future. And I know this is something we all share, and it’s what — it’s what still drives us all today.
And that is why, as Vice President, I am so proud to lead our administration’s efforts on voting rights.
And we all know the history of this issue. The National Bar Association — its members and everything it represents — played an integral role in shaping that history — the history of voting or the lack of voting in America.
Because just think about it: When people were fighting against poll taxes, Black lawyers were there. When people were marching in the streets, registering voters in the South, Black lawyers were there. When blood was being shed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, Black lawyers were there.
It is our members, it is Black lawyers who helped to lead the fight for the right to vote. And today, it is they, it is we, who are leading the fight to defend that right.
Shelby County v. Holder. Brnovich v. the Democratic National Committee. Yes, the names of the cases have changed, but, as we know, the fight remains.
Because here’s the truth: This fight has always been about self-determination. This fight has always been about who is seen as a person worthy of the rights of citizenship and the ability to exercise those rights; about who has a voice in what happens to them, to their families, and to our country. So, simply put, the right to vote is the right that unlocks all other rights.
And let’s take a moment to think about last year, about 2020:
Voters said they want jobs. They called for jobs. They voted. And now, more than 3 million jobs have been created.
Voters called for relief. They voted. And now, HBCUs received $2.6 billion, and families are getting monthly Child Credits — Child Tax Credit payments.
Voters — well, they called for a national vaccination plan. They voted. And now, more than 160 million Americans have been vaccinated.
But I’ll say — and I said this to Madam President — as an aside — and I say this to all of the members, the NBA leaders: If you know somebody who has not yet been vaccinated, please remind them the vast majority of people who are in the hospital now and almost everyone who has recently died from COVID are unvaccinated. This is no joke.
Now, back to the voters, which include a lot of folks. Voters in 2020 also called for more diversity and representation in our judicial system. They demanded it, as did the NBA. And they voted. And now we have confirmed, as an administration, more Black women to be circuit court judges in just six months than any other administration in all of history. All that to say: The vote matters.
But in the year 2021, 18 state legislators — legislatures so far have enacted 30 new laws that will make it more difficult to vote. And I believe they want to make it more difficult so that folks don’t vote.
Because just think about it: In the last election, voters were able to cast their ballots weeks before Election Day so they can make a plan to vote. With all of the burdens and the demands of life, they could make a plan to go and vote. They didn’t just have to just go on Election Day.
Voters in the last election were able to cast their ballots by mail. Voters were able to drop their ballots in drop boxes. But now state legislatures are trying to limit these options — reducing the number of days in early voting; reducing the number of drop boxes that are available; making it more difficult for people to stand in line to receive food and water.
But here’s the thing: Not everyone can stand in line for hours to vote on Election Day — we all know that — nor should they have to. Americans need options to be able to cast their ballot, which is their right.
And remember, this fight isn’t only about who gets to vote or how; this is also about who gets to count the vote. Let’s not lose sight of what’s going on out there.
Because some of these state legislatures are also trying to shift authorities from trusted local election officials to partisan, political actors.
So we must fight back against all of these efforts. We must fight to pass the For the People Act, which would create national voting standards, get dark money out of politics, and create fair representation by ending extreme partisan redistricting.
We must fight to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would prevent discriminatory laws and changes in voting laws that would discriminate. We must fight — NBA, we must fight on many fronts, including our Department of Justice, which, under the leadership of Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, has said it will change anti-voter — and challenge — and by challenging, hopefully change — anti-voter laws.
Civil rights organizations are similarly contesting anti-voter laws in the courts. And lawyers, including many of you, are starting to plan now to mount massive voter protection programs for next year’s election.
And let us — let us pause for a moment to reflect and praise the incredible leadership of the National Bar Association — always and, most recently, in 2020. Because it was the NBA and its members that were answering calls on the hotline, responding to litigation needs, monitoring the polls. And it made a difference.
And so, as we move forward, it’s going to take all of us to ensure that all Americans can vote and have their vote counted in a fair and transparent process.
So, you know, I mentioned earlier that the National Bar Association has helped shape history on so many levels, and especially this. And indeed, it has. And that is because, time and again, members of this organization have risen to the moment.
When Black lawyers were barred from joining other legal associations, the founders created this one. When people of color and poor people could not afford counsel, this organization set up free legal clinics and offered pro bono services. When segregation kept people of color — kept Black people from being able to determine their future, it was lawyers among this membership who were among the leaders who argued against it.
And today — and today, as the right to vote is yet again under attack, I know that the members of the National Bar Association will rise, once again, to the moment. Because we believe, and we know, our democracy is stronger when everyone can participate and it is weaker when anyone is left out.
So, thank you, all for your ongoing commitment, for your excellence, for your work. Thank you. And may God Bless you, and may God Bless America.
I’ll see you soon.
12:15 P.M. EDT