Aug 15, 2023
They say never meet your heroes, but we’re so glad we got to meet two of ours, as they gave us the shot of hope at the end of our conversation that we all need, considering everything that’s happening around us currently.
To be honest, we had been looking forward to this conversation ever since David Louie (Episode 212, if you want to go back and listen) made this introduction, and it was everything we had hoped it would be. Not only because Doug Jones and Bill Baxley are legal powerhouses, but also because they were just two men, doing what they believed to be right, because perhaps they were the only ones who could have fought this fight.
And that - the power of one, standing in your beliefs and speaking up for those who cannot - is something we should all carry with us from this conversation.
What to listen for:
How two white men growing up in the South came to their belief in and advocacy of equal justice
The role that witnesses - especially the white wives of Klans members - played in the various trials, both in positive and negative ways
What these lawyers would say to people who diminish the ongoing impact of systemic racism, and claim that “slavery happened so long ago”...
The most powerful way young people can do so that lawmakers hear their voices
About Doug Jones:
A celebrated prosecutor who brought long-overdue justice to the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Doug has built his career on fighting impossible battles. In 2017, he shocked the political establishment by winning a special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama—the first Democrat to do so in 25 years in the state. On Capitol Hill, he quickly built a reputation as a well-regarded and effective legislator, passing more than two dozen bipartisan bills into law in just three years.
Doug’s first job after graduating from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University was as staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary for Sen. Howell Heflin (D-AL). Following his stint in Washington, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1980 to 1984. Doug left government service in 1984 and was in the private practice of law in Birmingham, Alabama, until President Bill Clinton nominated him to the position of U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate in November 1997, and he served as U.S. attorney until June 2001. It was while serving in that position that he successfully prosecuted 2 of the 4 men responsible for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church—finally bringing full justice and closure nearly 40 years after the attack that killed four young girls. Along with taking on the Ku Klux Klan, he indicted domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph and prosecuted other criminals who sought to use fear, hatred, and violence to inhibit the rights of others.
Doug is the author of Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights which recounts a key moment in our long national struggle for equality and the successful prosecution of two Ku Klux Klan members 40 years later.
In 2022, Doug was selected by President Joe Biden to be the Nomination Advisor for Legislative Affairs to help to guide the selection, nomination, and successful confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court of the United States. In this role, Doug continued to upon the important relationships he had established while in Congress to help gain bipartisan support for the President’s nominee.
Today, Doug is of Counsel with ArentFox Schiff, a Senior Distinguish Fellow with the Center for American Progress, and is involved in a variety of different political and civic organizations. Doug resides in Birmingham, AL with his wife, Louise, and dogs, Scout and Dakota. He has three children Courtney (married to Rip Andrews), Carson, and Christopher as well as two grandchildren, Ever and Ollie.
About Bill Baxley:
Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General at age 28. Remarkably, he was already a seasoned prosecutor, having tried dozens of jury trials as District Attorney in Houston and Henry counties. He served as Alabama's Attorney General from 1971 to 1979 and its Lieutenant Governor from 1983 to 1987. As Attorney General, Bill served as lead trial counsel in every major action on the State's behalf, civil and criminal. He aggressively prosecuted them all. He appointed the state's first African-American assistant attorney general, who later became a federal judge. His successful prosecution of Ku Klux Klansman Robert Chambliss for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is featured in the Spike Lee documentary, 4 Little Girls. His legal accomplishments are also documented in Lay Down with Dogs, Until Justice Rolls Down, and numerous other publications.
Throughout his career, Bill Baxley has served in the Alabama Army National Guard, beginning as an enlisted clerk and rising through the ranks to retire as Colonel, JAG Corps. He has successfully represented clients in the United States Supreme Court, the Alabama Supreme Court, and in appellate and trial courts over which they exercise jurisdiction. He primarily represents large business corporations yet continues to represent individuals of modest means. Those efforts have earned him the distinction of being selected as a Fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers as well as being recognized by his peers as a Super Lawyer.
Also: Listen to Episode 31: Birmingham Church Bombings – How Did We Get Here on Dear White Women for a historic look at this tragedy