When moviemaker Spike Lee arrived at the Bingham McCutchen reception at the rotunda of the National Archives Sunday night, he made a beeline for the original of the U.S. Constitution. Was he checking to be sure it was still there? Hard to say, but once Lee gave it a hard look, he turned and joined the party -- along with hundreds of lawyers, judges, and others on hand for a pre-inaugural event in honor of Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree.
It was a star-studded event, with luminaries of the black bar and bench mingling and celebrating, not just the career of Ogletree -- some just called him "Tree" -- but the impending inauguration of Barack Obama.
"I'm very excited," Bingham partner Thurgood Marshall Jr. told us. "It's almost impossible to comprehend." Marshall was also pleased that in an exhibition area off the rotunda, the archives was showing, especially for the occasion, the 1951 Supreme Court "order of appearance" that carried the signature of his father, the late justice. It attested that he was the counsel of record in Brown v. Board of Education.
The younger Marshall, along with Bingham partner Raymond Marshall, were recognized at the event, which was hosted by Bingham chairman Jay Zimmerman and partner Kenneth Lore, who also heads the Foundation for the National Archives. "There is no better week, no better location," for the tribute to Ogletree, Lore told the audience. Deputy archivist Michael Kurtz also spoke.
Ogletree accepted recognition from the archives and from Bingham with remarks that focused on Obama's inauguration. "It's an amazing night, an amazing week," Ogletree said, proclaiming that America is "on the precipice of the most historic event in the history of our nation." Reflecting on the historic documents in the archives, Ogletree said, "Think about what those documents will look like" a minute after Obama is inaugurated. Ogletree also spoke of his Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard, which innovates and advocates on issues of race and the death penalty, affirmative action, and ending the "school to prison pipeline" for young minorities.
President-elect Obama was invited to the event but could not attend; he's a little busy. Obama did offer a videotaped tribute to Ogletree, recalling how helpful the professor was to him and wife Michelle when they were HLS students. "Charles Ogletree is beloved at Harvard Law School," Obama said, recalling a time when Ogletree brought to class some aging black victims of the Tulsa race riots of 1921 -- residents whose cause he later brought to court in a thus-far unsuccessful bid for reparations. "He gives voice to, helps lift up voices, that have been forgotten," Obama said of Ogletree.
Among others spotted in the crowd were: William Coleman Jr., senior counselor at O'Melveny & Myers, and part of the legal team for the Brown case; House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., (D-Mich.); current, senior or retired appeals judges Harry Edwards, Patricia Wald, Nathaniel Jones, and Stephen Reinhardt; and John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund