Llew Pritchard and the call for human rights

An assistant Secretary of State speaks at event honoring the Seattle attorney with a long record of fighting for rights and justice while serving on local boards.

An assistant Secretary of State speaks at event honoring the Seattle attorney with a long record of fighting for rights and justice while serving on local boards.

There are instances, however rare, when a namesake award and the award recipient so neatly align that one seems a natural extension of the other.

At the Four Seasons on Wednesday (Sept. 21), the Seattle chapter of the American Jewish Committee presented its 2011 Judge Learned Hand Award to Llewelyn "Llew" Pritchard, the distinguished local attorney and civic whirilwind. The late Judge Hand, who served for decades on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, was a noted civil libertarian, legal philosopher, and Joe-McCarthy-despising progressive. The Hand-Pritchard parallel is resonant, although Pritchard has always been an independent, get-it-done operator and never served as a judge. The philosophical congruence between the two, coupled with Pritchard's lifelong commitment to public service, made the award especially sweet.

The advancement and protection of human rights was the defining theme of Wednesday's event. Michael Posner, the U.S. Assisrant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and a human-rights boosting compatriot of Pritchard's, outlined the Obama Administration's agenda.

"I read the intelligence reports every day, and I can't exactly tell you to relax," Posner said. (Yes, the comment generated nervous laughter). 

Some of the administration's initiatives are unadorned and obviously consistent with core American values: A policy of "principled engagement" that enshrines religious freedom and human rights, for example. The administration is also focusing on an open Internet and tamping down political interference in cyber space. (Posner acknowledged Microsoft's Brad Smith, who was in the audience, as a human rights-tech ally). The administration has dedicated $70 million to "Internet freedom," Posner said, including the training of 5,000 activists on the latest technology. One example: A "panic button" for cell phones that automatically erases an individual's directory, safeguarding the identities of fellow activisits. 

"Changes occur from within," Posner said, an implicit nod to elevating civil society while avoiding changes from without. Approximately 50 countries worldwide continue to crack down on nongovernmental organizations, he said. There's still much work to do.  

When it came his turn to speak, Pritchard was characteristically modest, although quoting from Judge Hand has an immodest effect: It hits like an anchor truth. "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right," Pritchard said, quoting Hand. Another Hand nugget was cited by Thomas Ehrlich, the former Stanford Law Dean and Hand's last law clerk: "If we are to keep democracy, there must be a commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice."  

Llew Pritchard, an indefatigable advocate for the legal rights of immigrants, the poor, and those in the shadows of life, headwinds the sin of rationed justice. Judge Learned Hand would be delighted.    


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson