Holmes Norton, Eleanor 1937-
HOLMES NORTON, Eleanor 1937-
PERSONAL: Born June 13, 1937, in Washington, DC; daughter of Coleman (a civil servant) and Vela (a schoolteacher; maiden name, Lynch) Holmes; married Edward Norton, 1965 (divorced, 1993); children: Katherine Felicia, John Holmes. Education: Antioch College, B.A., 1960; Yale University, M.A., 1963, LL.B, 1964.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—2136 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; fax: 202-225-3002.
CAREER: Politician, legal scholar, author, attorney, and activist. Federal District Court, Philadelphia, PA, law clerk, 1964-65; Admitted to the bar of Pennsylvania, 1965, and the bar of U.S. Supreme Court, 1968; American Civil Liberties Union, New York, NY, assistant legal director, 1965-70; Commission on Human Rights, chair, New York, NY, 1970-77; Mayor of New York City, executive assistant, 1971-74; U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, chair, 1977-81; Georgetown University, professor of law, 1981—; U.S. House of Representatives, congressperson from District of Columbia, 1990—, serving on Select Committee on Homeland Security, Committee on Government Reform, and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Member of board of Rockefeller Foundation; member of board of governors, D.C. Bar Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Awarded more than fifty honorary degrees; Young Woman of the Year Award, Junior Chamber of Commerce, 1965; Louise Waterman Wise Award, American Jewish Congress, 1971; Urban Institute, senior fellow, 1981-82; Citation of Merit as an Outstanding Alumna, Yale Law School; Yale Wilbur Cross Medal as an Outstanding Alumna, Yale Graduate School.
(With Barbara Allen Babcock) Sex Discrimination and the Law: Causes and Remedies, Little, Brown (Boston, MA) 1975.
(With Joan Steinau Lester) Fire in My Soul, foreword by Coretta Scott King, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to numerous professional journals.
SIDELIGHTS: A dedicated proponent of civil rights and constitutional principles, Eleanor Holmes Norton has forged a stellar career in public service. Whether working as the head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, or as a congressional representative for the Washington, D.C. district, Holmes Norton pursues legal equality and human rights for all her clients and constituents.
Born on June 13, 1937, in Washington, D.C., Holmes Norton had an early experience with injustice that helped shape her attitude toward human rights, racial equality, and the fundamental need for a broad application of legal principles to all races. "In 1949, when she was twelve years old, Norton watched a protest outside of Hecht's department store," wrote John LoDico in Contemporary Black Biography. "Activist Mary Church Terrell was picketing the store because blacks were not allowed to use Hecht's bathrooms, though they were allowed to buy clothes there." This racially charged contradiction strongly influenced Holmes Norton as she pursued her education, including a B.A. from Antioch College (where she was the only black student) and a law degree from Yale Law School, and embarked on a career of legal and political service.
After serving a term as clerk in a federal circuit court in Philadelphia, Holmes Norton became the assistant legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She adamantly championed the cause of civil liberties and free speech during her tenure with the ACLU. "In 1968," LoDico wrote, "she won the first case she argued before the Supreme Court; in that proceeding, Holmes Norton—an unswerving advocate of free speech—argued on behalf of a white supremacist group that had been barred from holding a rally in Maryland." She also squared off against New York City mayor John Lindsay, suing on behalf of George Wallace, who had been barred from speaking at Shea Stadium during his 1968 campaign for the presidency.
Despite her conflict with the New York mayor, Lindsay appointed Holmes Norton head of the New York City commission on human rights. As commissioner, Holmes Norton produced "a remarkable string of achievements, tenaciously battling prejudice and injustice," LoDico wrote. Though she made enemies and incensed critics, she also achieved important victories against housing discrimination and advocated for women's and racial issues.
In 1977, Holmes Norton was appointed chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by President Jimmy Carter. Though she inherited an organization with a poor reputation and a 130,000-case backlog, "After only two years in office she had transformed the EEOC into a highly productive and efficient agency," wrote Mecca Nelson in Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Holmes Norton served four years with the EEOC, then taught law at Georgetown University, served on presidential panels, and advised on social and political issues such as Affirmative Action.
Holmes Norton's political life took a significant turn when Walter Fauntroy, the congressional representative for the District of Columbia, chose to resign his congressional seat and run—without success—for mayor. Holmes Norton, a well-known and well-respected Democrat, stepped up to vie for Fauntroy's house seat. In spite of a harsh blow to her campaign—it was discovered that Holmes Norton and her husband Edward had not paid D.C. income taxes between 1982 and 1989—she took the primary and was elected to Congress in November with sixty-two percent of the vote, LoDico remarked. Although she won the election, her marriage was a casualty; she and Edward separated within days of the 1990 election, and were divorced in 1993. Friends of the couple quoted in the Washington Post said their break-up "resulted directly from the tax controversy," LoDico wrote.
In spite of family turmoil and the difficulties of raising a daughter, Katherine, with Down's syndrome, Holmes Norton "quickly began to distinguish herself from previous District representatives," LoDico commented. She stayed close to the district, attending hundreds of community meetings and congressional hearings. She concentrated on local issues, convincing Congress to appropriate funds to avoid a budget crisis in the District. She secured more than $300 million in new federal funding for the District. She opposed the death penalty, convinced the National Park Service to install lights in crime-prone areas of the city, and offered frequent criticism of the Republican administration under George Bush. Holmes Norton became "the first elected leader to urge Bush to do something positive in the wake of the rioting that erupted in Los Angeles after the Rodney King/police brutality verdict," LoDico wrote.
In 1991, Roxanne Brown, Richette Haywood, and Aldore Collier, writing in Ebony, described Holmes Norton: "Tall, striking, confident, the new D.C. delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives exudes power, and she is usually surrounded by constituents and colleagues singing her praises or seeking advice." Holmes Norton's position as the D.C. representative is unlike those of other congressional representatives, however. At the time of her election, the D.C. representative, as well as those from the four U.S. territories, were "constitutionally barred from becoming full members of the House," LoDico wrote. "They can vote in committee, speak on the House floor, introduce legislation, and even head a committee through seniority." In 1993, however, Holmes Norton crafted a legal strategy that permitted Congress to grant her a House vote. She observed that the full House of Representatives meets in what parliamentarians call a "committee of the whole." In that case, "Since delegates can vote in committee, she reasoned that the committee of the whole—which is how Congress gathers to debate and vote on substantive issues—is in fact yet another committee of Congress," LoDico explained. She was granted a vote in January, 1993, providing residents of Washington, D.C., with their first voting representative in Congress. The rules were later changed, however, depriving Holmes Norton of her hard-won right to vote. She still retains full voting rights in House committees. "Her success in writing bills and getting them enacted has made her one of the most effective legislative leaders in the House," wrote a biographer on the House of Representatives Web site.
"The Congresswoman's work for full congressional voting representation and for full democracy for the people of the District of Columbia continues her lifelong struggle for universal human rights," wrote a biographer on the House of Representatives Web site. She continues to advocate for statehood for the District of Columbia. "To her, the statehood issue, which would guarantee Washingtonians a full voice in their future, is similar to the other issues of fair play that have motivated her from her earliest days watching civil rights protests outside the neighborhood department store," LoDico commented.
Holmes Norton also contributes her legal expertise to a wide range of professional periodicals and legal journals. In 1975, she was a coauthor of the legal textbook, Sex Discrimination and the Law: Causes and Remedies, published by Little, Brown. Fire in My Soul, written with Joan Steinau Lester and published in 2003, traces Holmes Norton's life and career, partly through interviews with colleagues but primarily through Holmes Norton's own writing. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "a gratifying autobiography/biography" combination. In the book, "Readers will get a strong taste of Norton's forceful personality and the constancy and vigor of her convictions," the Kirkus Review critic wrote. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that "Steinau's thorough portrait is a compelling and inspiring homage to a legacy still in progress."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Hine, Darlene Clark, editor, Black Women in America:An Historical Encyclopedia, Carlson Publishing (Brooklyn, NY), 1993.
Booklist, January 1, 2003, Vanessa Busy, review of Fire in My Soul, p. 816.
Ebony, January, 1991, Roxanne Brown, Richette Haywood, and Aldore Collier, "A Black Woman's Place Is in the . . . House of Representatives," pp. 104-108.
Essence, August, 1998, Lisa Funderberg, "Power Moves," interview with Maya Angelou and Eleanor Holmes Norton, pp. 70-76.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of Fire in My Soul, p. 1680.
Library Journal, November 1, 2002, Ann Burns, review of Fire in My Soul, p. 110. Publishers Weekly, December 9, 2002, review of Fire in My Soul, p. 75.
Eleanor Holmes Norton Home Page/U.S. House of Representatives,http://www.norton.house.gov/ (July 3,2003), biography of Eleanor Holmes Norton.
National Security Archive Web site,http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ (July 11, 1996), interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Students and Leaders Web site,http://www.studentsandleaders.org/ (May 7, 2003), biography of Eleanor Holmes Norton.*