William Taylor, a dogged advocate for civil rights and education reform who counted Thurgood Marshall as a mentor, died Monday in Bethesda, Md., at age 78. Lawyers and civil rights leaders are mourning his death, which resulted from complications after a fall, according to The Washington Post.
Mayer Brown partner Andrew Pincus, who worked with Taylor on a brief filed in the Supreme Court's school integration case Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 in 2007, said, "Bill Taylor was a national treasure. He was a key participant in the entire, remarkable history of the dismantling of legally-mandated school desegregation, and then fought against the de facto segregation that took its place."
Working with Taylor on the 2007 schools case, Pincus said, "There was hardly a need to consult the United States Reports; Bill had lived the facts of every Supreme Court case. Of course, the majority’s ruling in Parents Involved was depressing to Bill because it was so disconnected from the reality that he understood so well. But he continued to fight for diverse, inclusive schools every day until the end of his life."
Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, whose board of directors Taylor once chaired, said, “We knew Bill Taylor as a lawyer, teacher, and advocate, but also as an inspirational leader and a man whose courageous civil rights work set an example few could match. His vision, commitment, and legal acumen will be sorely missed." A statement from the alliance called Taylor "one of the nation’s most accomplished and revered advocates for civil rights and educational opportunity for all Americans."
"Bill Taylor helped the civil rights movement perform the impossible," said Ralph Neas, onetime executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and People for the American Way. Taylor was a leader within the conference. "In the face of huge resistance, LCCR directed two-dozen national campaigns that strengthened every major civil rights law, overturned more than a dozen adverse Supreme Court decisions, and defeated the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork." Neas is now president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.
After working with Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the 1950s, Taylor served as general counsel and staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and worked on the major civil rights legislation of the post-Brown v. Board of Education era. At his death, he was acting chair of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, a non-government group that monitors government civil rights policies.
In a 2007 column for Legal Times, Taylor criticized Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for using the term "mixed blood" to describe children of interracial families during oral arguments in the Seattle schools case. "To those who have forgotten recent history, the term mixed blood may sound vaguely poetic," wrote Taylor. "It is not. It is ugly language from a time when white Americans separated themselves by law from black Americans to avoid what officials freely called contamination."