Click here to view our video interview of Noah Purcell
Event photos online at www.kcba.org/annualdinner.
June 2017 Bar Bulletin
By Michael Wampold
KCBA’s Friend of the Legal Profession Award is presented for distinguished and meritorious service to the legal profession and the justice system. This year, there is no one more deserving of this award than Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell.
U.S. citizens can look back at much of our country’s history with pride. But we also have historical events that evoke embarrassment and shame. Those events — such as slavery or the internment of the Japanese — often involve failures of the justice system to protect the most vulnerable of our citizenry.
But this year we saw our justice system at its finest hour. Our justice system operated as it was designed to by stopping the executive branch’s attempt to violate the U.S. Constitution. This year our justice system succeeded in protecting the rights of our country’s most vulnerable residents. Purcell and his colleagues in the Attorney General’s Office were key players in this fight. They helped remind everyone of the justice system’s vital role in our democracy.
One of Donald Trump’s campaign issues was the threat our country allegedly faced from Islamic fundamentalists. Candidate Trump argued that Islamic fundamentalists posed a threat to our survival, that not enough was being done to deal with this threat, and that, if elected, he would take action to protect the country. Candidate Trump promised that he would implement a travel ban on Islamic people until such time as the United States had the opportunity to “figure out what is going on.” This campaign rhetoric was very concerning to many because banning people based on religion seemed like an affront to the protections in the U.S. Constitution.
After he was elected, Trump wasted no time implementing his proposed travel ban. The ban immediately caused chaos and left travelers stranded at airports throughout the world.
While many lawyers across the country thought about what to do next, the Washington Attorney General’s Office and, specifically, Purcell as solicitor general, jumped into action. Purcell and his team (including the AG’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit) spent the weekend investigating the harm to Washington’s citizens and drafting a complaint.
The ban was issued on a Friday; the complaint was filed on a Monday. The complaint asked for immediate injunctive relief. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle and was assigned to the Honorable James Robart. Judge Robart immediately asked for briefs from the parties and scheduled oral argument within days.
Purcell and his team scrambled to write the briefs and get ready for this hearing on a very tight timeline. Seldom does a lawyer have to prepare for an argument of this magnitude and significance on such a tight timeline. But Purcell and his team worked around the clock getting ready. It showed. People who watched and listened to the arguments that day were universal in their praise of Purcell’s performance. And, most importantly, his argument carried the day and Judge Robart issued the temporary restraining order.
Days later, Purcell again argued the case, this time in front of the Ninth Circuit. Once again, he performed well under a tight schedule and tremendous pressure. He won again. As a result, Trump withdrew the first travel ban. It was a stunning victory for Washington and the American people.
For those who know Purcell, his great legal work and public service do not come as a surprise. He grew up on Beacon Hill and attended Franklin High School. Having attended public schools with lots of students of meager means and with limited opportunities, he was steeped in the need for public service. He has always shined academically and showed early promise as a future lawyer.
At Franklin, Purcell was a part of a mock trial team that won the state competition. After graduating from Franklin, he attended the University of Washington. He did so well in college that he got into Harvard Law School. At Harvard, he was on the Law Review. Following graduation, he clerked both on the D.C. Circuit and on the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice David Souter.
Noah Purcell was in the right place at the right time. He and his team prevented the travel ban from becoming another historical black mark that years later would be viewed with embarrassment and shame. Instead, history books will point out that our constitutional system worked as it was designed — to protect the vulnerable. Noah Purcell, you are a true Friend of the Legal Profession.