The 21st annual Anti-Defamation League Jurisprudence Luncheon gathered 350 attendees at the Ritz-Carlton downtown Wednesday, Feb. 28.

“I think the ADL is more relevant now than it has ever been,” lawyer Eric Fisher said during the pre-function reception. ADL the previous day announced that reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the four-state Southeast Region rose 32 percent in 2017, while the number nationally jumped about 60 percent.

Along with Fisher, younger lawyers Scott Zweigel and Jeff Fisher (no relation to Eric), all graduates of the ADL leadership program, stay connected and now serve on the regional board.

“The Southeast Region needs the ADL now with a 60 percent increase in hate incidents that we saw in 2017,” ADL Southeast Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman said. “Our fight is real. Georgia needs a hate crime bill. Our college campuses are stomping grounds for young minds. … We have to change the narrative of the Deep South by matching our passion to courage.”

ADL honored Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and Sally Q. Yates with awards as lawyers who have dedicated themselves to securing justice and fair treatment for all people.

Longtime ADL board member Liane Levetan chats with lawyer David Flint.

The 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award went to Jordan, senior counsel with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, for his enduring legacy of civil and human rights leadership and his service with the National Urban League, United Negro College Fund, NAACP, U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity and numerous presidential appointments exemplary of ADL values and mission.

The 2018 Elbert P. Tuttle Jurisprudence Award went to Yates. Through her 27 years of service in the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. attorney and U.S. attorney in Atlanta and as deputy attorney general, the second-highest position in the department, and briefly as acting attorney general under President Donald Trump, Yates has been a champion of the rule of law, fairness and equal justice.

Leah Ward Sears, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, moderated a discussion with the two honorees.

Jordan said that, growing up in the South, his mother advised him to use the bathroom and drink water before they left the house to avoid the humiliation of separate facilities.

Leah Ward Sears, a former Georgia chief justice, moderates the Jordan-Yates discussion.

The Jewish community has always been a boon to Jordan. He specified Lew Regenstein, Miles Alexander and Charles Wittenstein, who sent him on his first trip abroad (to Israel in 1967).

Above all, he has no room for anger. Because of his positive approach, Jordan got a college scholarship and was the only African-American in his class. After he was shot in 1980, he focused on getting well, not revenge.

When Yates started at King & Spalding three decades ago, she had only a handful of women as mentors. Now when she looks at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, half the lawyers are women. Her generation saw the change.

Now, she said, the nation needs to focus on revamping the federal justice system and correcting an imbalance in incarceration rates.

Jordan addressed the post-Parkland debate over firearms: “Arming teachers with guns is insane. We have added amendments to the Constitution, and we can take some out!”

Yates praised Dick’s Sporting Goods for raising the age for gun purchases to 21 and eliminating sales of assault-style weapons.

As a footnote, I have never attended a local event with such a conspicuous and formidable team of security officers.

ADL Trains Schools, Police

The Anti-Defamation League has become the best recognized provider of bullying prevention training in the Southeast. The ADL Southeast Region operates its No Place for Hate initiative in more than 200 schools in four states, engaging students in dialogue around diversity and identity.

ADL also is the nation’s largest nongovernmental trainer of law enforcement. ADL trains federal, state and local officers on how to investigate hate crimes, identify extremist and terrorist groups, and work with diverse communities in which many residents fear legal authorities.

The Jurisprudence Luncheon supports all those programs, which are provided free to participating institutions.