Saying Goodbye to Civil Rights Hero William Moffitt

Feature 329“An unsettling political climate which tramples the rights of Americans, regardless of their innocence, & which ignores legitimate alternatives to incarceration, has made the work of criminal defense lawyers more difficult and more essential than ever.”~William B. Moffitt (January 16, 1949- April 24, 2009)

As a boy, William B. Moffitt’s father told him how he used to run across rooftops, throwing stones at authorities – a child’s way of resisting the oppression and degradation of racism and segregation. In his closing argument on behalf of Abdelhaleem Ashqar, he used this story to compare the civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement to the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and apartheid. It was the first and only time I had seen Moffitt deliver a closing argument, and it was perfect. It was exactly what a closing argument should be. And Bill Moffitt was the only one who could have delivered it.

Bill Moffitt was the kind of attorney every lawyer and aspiring lawyer hopes to become. Talented and dynamic, quick on his feet and sharp-tongued. But it was his character and integrity that made him an inspiration to civil rights activists across the nation. In addition to successfully representing Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who had faced federal charges for racketeering, Moffitt represented Sami Al-Arian in a terrorism and conspiracy trial, in which he was acquitted of 18 of the charges against him. He also filed an amicus brief challenging CAIR’s designation as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial, arguing that the designation was a violation of due process rights guaranteed by the constitution.

Prior to taking part in the struggle for civil liberties against the department of justice’s witch-hunt towards Muslims, Moffitt established himself as a leader in the legal community and a champion of civil rights. He built a strong reputation as a criminal defense attorney, became the second black president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and testified in a hearing on drug sentencing policy before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. He was listed as one of the Best Lawyers in America, as well as named one of Washington’s Top Lawyers by the Washingtonian Magazine and one of America’s Top Black Lawyers by Black Enterprise Magazine. In addition to criminal defense practice, Moffitt taught at the National Criminal Defense College.

Bill Moffitt will be remembered in the civil rights community as a talented and harrowing fighter. The kind of lawyer we all love to watch in action, and the kind of activist we can all admire. May God rest his soul.

Christina Abraham is the Civil Rights Director for the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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