Days, Drew S. III 1941—
Drew S. Days, III 1941—
Attorney, law professor
For many, a degree from the law school of Yale University, one of the nation’s most prestigious schools, would be the key to a well-paying and high-powered job with a large corporate firm in a major city. Drew Days, however, had other plans. While his fellow law students arranged their summer internships with huge firms serving the rich and the powerful, Days returned to his native Georgia to work for a one-man law office specializing in civil rights and representing the poor and marginalized of American society. Despite these humble beginnings, Days rose quickly in his profession, becoming, at the relatively young age of 51, solicitor general of the United States, the nation’s top courtroom advocate. It is the same post that Thurgood Marshall held before becoming the first African American justice of the Supreme Court in 1967.
Born in Atlanta in the months before the United States entered World War II, Days moved frequently as a child, attending school in New York and Florida. Later, as an attorney, he would successfully argue for the desegregation of the same Tampa school system in which he was enrolled for a time. He received his college degree at Hamilton College in New York before going on to Yale Law School, where he not only excelled academically, but also found time to sing as a featured tenor in the Russian Chorus.
After graduating from Yale, Days traveled to Chicago, using his legal training to fight housing discrimination against minorities. It was while arguing fair housing cases that he met and worked with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Several years later, at the age of 27, he temporarily abandoned the practice of law and went to work for the U.S. Peace Corp in the Central American nation of Honduras. Despite his lack of formal training in agriculture, he helped to establish a cooperative farm there that has continued successfully for years.
Returning to the United States, Days went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In this capacity he met a Florida attorney named Griffin Bell. Bell was so impressed by Days that when a few years later Bell became attorney general under President Jimmy Carter, he offered Days any job he wanted in the Justice Department. Consistent with his longtime commitment to social equality, Days became
Born Drew Saunders Days III, August 29, 1941, in Atlanta, GA; son of Drew Saunders Days, Jr., and Dorethea (Jamerson) Days; married Ann Ramsay tangdon; children: Alison Langdon, Elizabeth Jamerson. Education: Hamilton College, BA (cum laude), 1963; Yale Law School, LLB, 1966.
Illinois Civil Liberties Union, attorney, 1966; Cotton, Watt, Jones, King & Bowlus (law firm), Chicago, IL, associate attorney, 1966-67; Peace Corps volunter, 1967–69; NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, first assistant counsel, 1969–77; Agency for International Development, Honduras program consultant, 1968–69; Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, associate professor of law, 1973–75; U.S. Department of Justice, assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights, 1977–81; Yale Law School, New Haven, CT, professor of law, 1981—; U.S. Department of Justice, solicitor general, 1993—.
Awards: Judge Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award, 1990.
Addresses: Office— Office of Solicitor Generai, Department of Justice, 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Rm. 5143, Washington, DC 20530.
the first African American to head the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice in 1977.
After Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter for the presidency in 1980, Days returned to Yale Law School as a professor. He had taught briefly at the law school of Temple University in Philadelphia before joining the Justice Department. His appointment to Yale, however, was much more significant: not only was Days the first African American on the faculty there, but he also went on to gain tenure despite concerns that his career experience until then had been too pointed toward practical experience and not enough toward academic writing.
With the Republicans in power in the 1980s, Days was unable to return to government service. Nonetheless, he was one of only three black law professors who testified against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He faulted Thomas for not having a “sense of history” in his opposition toward affirmative action initiatives. (Thomas was later confirmed.) Still, despite his opposition to Thomas because of the latter’s civil rights record, Days was not afraid to criticize programs aimed at helping minorities that he considered haphazardly conceived and run without proper review procedures in place. He won the respect of many of his opponents through his willingness to be critical even of programs the aims of which he supported.
When Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, ending the 12-year Republican hold on the presidency, he nominated Days to be solicitor general of the United States. Days’s intellect and thoughtfulness made him very popular with members of the Senate, including those who did not agree with many of his ideas. Typical of their reaction to Days’s record was that of Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming who praised Days for his “ability to be terribly forceful and keep [his] head … steadiness … and … humor.”
The ease with which Days was confirmed to the second-leading position in the Justice Department was particularly significant given the controversy that had dogged Clinton’s other nominees in that field. His first two nominees for attorney general had to withdraw their names from consideration under fire, and Clinton himself withdrew Lanie Guinier from consideration from the post Days once held, assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights. Other high officials in the department were eventually forced to resign because of questionable dealings before taking office.
The primary responsibility of the solicitor general is to argue the government’s cases before the Supreme Court. Days has worked to make the office less political than it was under the Reagan and Bush administrations, and several times he has been at odds with the president for taking an independent line. Most notably, he has taken himself out of cases involving Haitian refugees, whom he wants to let immigrate to the United States despite the administration’s determination to keep them out. In 1995 he appeared before the Supreme Court, where he argued to keep so-called “minority voting districts” in place. Advocates believe that the districts made possible the elections of the first blacks to Congress in the Deep South.
Such differences with Clinton notwithstanding, many believe that Days will one day be appointed to the Supreme Court, either by this president or another. Even if he does not make it to the Supreme Court, he will remain one of the most influential legal minds in the nation, whether he’s writing opinions from the Justice Department or the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, or from the Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Atlanta Constitution, November 16, 1993, p. A18.
Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1993, sec. 1, p. 6.
Jet, May 15, 1995.
National Journal, April 9, 1994, pp. 824–28.
Newsweek, October 10, 1994, pp. 62–64.
New York Times, September 28, 1993, p. A22.
Wall Street Journal, May 5, 1993, p. A23.
Washington Post, April 19, 1993, p. A21.
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