Michael Ratner, longtime president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), has died of cancer at the age of 72. We remember him as one of the Lawyers We Love™.
Founded 50 years ago, CCR grew from a small group of lawyers fighting for civil rights in the Jim Crow South to a powerful legal outfit capable of beating the Bush administration over abuses at Guantanamo. Through sheer competence and a passion for justice and human rights, Michael Ratner led much of that growth.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1940s, Ratner was a graduate of Brandeis University and Columbia Law School. He taught law at both Columbia and Yale. Ratner joined CCR five years after its founding, in 1971. He authored several books, including The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book, Against War With Iraq: An Anti-War Primer, and Guantanamo: What the World Should Know.
Ratner received an award for excellence from the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in the mid-1980s. In 2006, the National Law Journal named him one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country. In 2007, he won the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.
History will find Ratner on the right side of nearly every issue of justice in the modern era. CCR said it best:
From Attica to Assange, Michael Ratner has defended, investigated, and spoken up for victims of human rights abuses all over the world. For 45 years, Michael brought cases with the Center for Constitutional Rights in U.S. courts related to war, torture, and other atrocities, sometimes committed by the U.S., sometimes by other regimes or corporations, in places ranging from El Salvador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala, to Yugoslavia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, and Israel. Seeking to hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture, he turned to filing cases under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction in international courts—in Germany, Spain, Canada, Switzerland, and France. Michael dedicated his life to the most important fights for justice of the last half century… Michael’s legacy is the sea of people he has touched—his family, his clients, his allies, his colleagues, and all of the young lawyers he has inspired. Today we mourn. Tomorrow we carry on his work.
Ratner was audacious. A complaint he helped file in a French court got Donald Rumsfeld charged with torture. He resigned from an ethics advisory board at Brandeis when they cut ties with a Palestinian university over issues of free speech. He fought against U.S. policies and covert actions in Central America, including the blockade of Cuba and the coup against Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He and CCR led the legal fight against human rights abuses in the War on Terror.
Near the end of his life, Ratner worked to protect whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. He fought domestic human rights abuses as well, effectively ending New York City’s stop-and-frisk policing tactics. Ratner was everywhere.
We offer thanks for a life of service. Michael Ratner, présenté!