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Supreme Court Justice Breyer Remembers William Coleman in the WSJ

November 06, 2017

In a commentary published in the November 3, 2017, issue of The Wall Street Journal, US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer paid tribute to O’Melveny senior partner William Coleman, who died in March at the age of 96. Breyer was among those who gathered at a memorial held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, on October 28, drawing “civil rights leaders, members of Congress, cabinet members, generals, judges, and three Supreme Court justices,” as Breyer noted in his piece, “William Coleman’s Legacy.”

Coleman championed civil rights in historic cases before the Supreme Court, including the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, which struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage and broke racial barriers in his own life. He joined O’Melveny in 1977 following his service as US Secretary of Transportation. He went on to serve as co-chair of the firm’s Washington, DC, office from 1977 to 1991 and was a part of the leadership team that charted O’Melveny’s international expansion.

“To describe Bill simply as a lawyer and public servant would be misleading,” Breyer observed. “He was an American of color who grew up at a time when that meant hardship and humiliation at the hands of a society that embraced invidious discrimination and legalized segregation.”

Breyer continued: “What was Bill Coleman’s reaction? Don’t agonize, just get down to work to rid our nation of this malignant disease. His method? Use what is best about America, its commitment to equal justice under law, to end what was worst about America, its blatant racial discrimination.”