Thursday, November 08, 2012

Critical info missing from news reports on death of Justice Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan, the first Black Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, passed away on Nov. 2nd at the age of 85.

If you do a search for him, you'll find a ton of information - but one critical piece of information is remarkably absent.

For instance, you'll find that he was a jurist of many 'firsts':

* first African-American elected to judicial office in Franklin County,
* first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio,
* first African-American to win a seat in a statewide Ohio election,
* first African-American to serve on the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, and
* first African-American to be appointed to the federal bench in Ohio.

CourtNewsOhio reports:

Born in Urbana, Ohio on August 24, 1927, Duncan frequently commented on his early schooling, noting his education in a desegregated school in a completely segregated community. In 1948, he received his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University. He earned his law degree in 1952. Graduating as president of his law class, he admitted, “I wasn’t on fire about the law as a law student … I didn’t see myself as having a place in the law. I didn’t know any black lawyers.” He was admitted to the Ohio bar the same year.

He served in the U.S. Army in Korea. He was an assistant attorney general in Ohio and also served as chief counsel for the Ohio AG, supervising 125 assistant attorneys general and directing all legal work for the office.

Duncan was elected to the Franklin County Municipal Court in 1966. He was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1969. Duncan won election to that seat in 1970.

He left the Ohio Supreme Court when he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, the highest court for military personnel. In 1974, he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for southern Ohio.

In terms of cases, he is best know for his decision in Penick v. Columbus Board of Education, 1977, which decided the Columbus schools’ historic desegregation cases.

Duncan described himself as a “constitutionalist who believes the law should be applied equally without regard to personality and to meet the challenge of our times.”

He stepped down from the bench in 1985 and joined the private firm of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue in Columbus. He was an administrative partner and the coordinator for the new associates group.

CourtNewsOhio also reports:

Over the years, he served the Ohio State University in many capacities, as vice president and general counsel, on the board of trustees, and as the Moritz College of Law’s Distinguished Jurist in Residence. In 1985, Duncan won the Distinguished Service Award from the American Civil Liberties Union, honored by Executive Director Benson Wolman as “one of the most impressive persona ever to grace the Columbus scene…as a jurist in the courts of Ohio and the United States, he fairly and justly demonstrated exceptional devotion to securing constitutional guarantees of expression and belief, due process, and equal protection of the laws for all citizens.”

Most of the news reports on his life and death reference the same items found in the CourtNewsOhio report, as well as comments from elected officials, judges and bar associations.

The media coverage also notes his wife, Shirley, to whom he was married for 57 years, and their three children. They even include the memorial service information: November 9th at the Fawcett Center on the Ohio State University Campus, followed by a reception.

So what is the most critical piece of information that is missing from all of these reports?

Justice Duncan was a Republican.

He won election as a Republican, was appointed by a Republican Attorney General (William Saxbe), a Republican Governor (James Rhodes) and a Republican President (Richard Nixon).

Of course, now that you know he's a Republican, you can understand why his party affiliation is ignored.

Republicans need to celebrate such distinguished members of our party, regardless of race.

But when the main stream media fails to, we have to proudly proclaim that Justice Duncan wasn't just the 'first African-American' - he was a Republican, too.

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