FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 25, 2023
CONTACT: Iowa-Nebraska NAACP 515.288.7171 or IowaNebraskaNAACP@gmail.com
NAACP'S RUSSELL LOVELL RECEIVES NOTRE DAME'S PUTZ AWARD
FOR HIS OUTSTANDING DEDICATION TO ADVANCING CIVIL RIGHTS
Des Moines...The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conference announces that Drake Law Professor Emeritus Russell Lovell, co-chair of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and Des Moines Branch NAACP Legal Redress Committees, was presented with the 2023 Rev. Louis J. Putz, C.S.C., Award at the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association (NDAA) luncheon on campus on August 31. Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews nominated Russ for the Rev. Putz Award based on his fifty years of exceptional NAACP pro bono civil rights advocacy. President Andrews and her family and a small delegation including Iowa Bar Association President Emeritus Henry Hamilton and retired Drake University leader Dolph Pulliam joined Professor Lovell, and his family at Notre Dame in South Bend, IN for the ceremony.
The Putz Award is presented to “an individual (alumnus or non-alumnus) in recognition of the development and implementation of social action programs that have contributed to improving the lives of others.” It speaks volumes to the significance of Russ’s selection that, as of 2021, there were more than 150,000 living Notre Dame alumni.
State Area President Andrews, who has worked closely with Russ Lovell for the past ten years is honored to have nominated him. “Russ is a true champion for social justice and civil rights as well as a sagacious legal advisor.” She is both grateful and impressed by his tenure with the organization. “He has fought for equity for decades and is still dedicated to the cause. To this day he tirelessly volunteers ‘full-time’ on NAACP advocacy and has done so since his retirement from Drake Law in 2014. We are deeply grateful for his service.”
Des Moines Branch Interim President Arnold Woods echoes the sentiment. "We congratulate Russ on this prestigious award. This significant recognition and achievement mark the culmination of over 50 years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance of civil right legal advocacy efforts." said Woods who is also a Past Des Moines Branch and State Area President. "His expertise and legal proficiency as Co-Chairperson of our formidable Legal Redress Committee is second to none."
Notre Dame’s biographical sketch of Russ’s decades of social justice advocacy is linked here. Russ’s 50-year history of law reform lawyering that began in 1974 as NAACP lead counsel in Bailey v. DeBard. Russ’s superb advocacy, not only through litigation but also through legislative and administrative reforms, has achieved huge victories in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska, and he also had a major hand in an NAACP victory in an Arkansas school desegregation case in 1970.
Bailey v. DeBard and Moore v. City of Des Moines were the two NAACP pattern and practice class action civil rights suits on which Russ served as NAACP lead counsel. Because of their complexity and the massive effort required, pattern and practice cases principally have been brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). As a result of Russ’s tireless effort and skills the NAACP achieved Federal Court Consent Decrees in Bailey and Moore that brought about full integration of both the Indiana State Troopers in the 1970’s and the Des Moines Fire Department in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The U.S. Court of Appeals had high praise for Russ’s work: "This case was difficult and complex civil rights class action litigation. The result is a detailed consent decree that is a very professional work product reflecting a high level of skill in the field of complex civil rights litigation." Moore v. City of Des Moines, 766 F.2d 343, 344-345 (8th Cir. 1985).
Russ also served as lead counsel for the NAACP throughout the court-awarded fees component of the Kansas City School desegregation case, which was finally won in the U.S. Supreme Court. Jenkins v. Missouri, 109 S.Ct. 2463 (1989). Echoing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress came to recognize that Civil Rights laws are only effective if they are enforced and that Court Orders don’t happen on their own. Congress knew that the DOJ could handle only a fraction of the enforcement of its Civil Rights Acts, and, thus, skilled and dedicated private attorneys would be critical to enforcement. Congress also recognized that seldom can civil rights plaintiffs afford an attorney’s services, and therefore it authorized a “reasonable” court-awarded attorney fee when private counsel successfully enforced the Civil Rights Acts as a “private attorney general.” In Jenkins Russ’s successful advocacy ensured that the attorneys, who had successfully litigated the Kansas City school desegregation for seven years without any compensation whatsoever, would be able to carry on their critical work for the African American children throughout the years of implementation of the court’s injunction decree. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruling established a precedent that a court-awarded fee must include compensation for the very substantial economic costs when payment is delayed for such a lengthy time—which is often the reality as civil rights cases often take many years to complete.
In recent years Russ’s NAACP advocacy has focused on achieving juries whose composition truly reflects the communities that they represent. In an array of forums—Amicus Briefs in the Iowa and Nebraska Supreme Courts, ongoing NAACP dialogue with the Iowa and Nebraska Supreme Courts, testimony and Public Comments to proposed amendments to the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure, participation on the Iowa Court’s Jury Selection Study Committee, a dozen CLE “race and the jury” presentations to public defenders and criminal defense attorneys, and scholarship—Russ has continued to make a difference. Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Institute’s Report, Race & the Jury: Illegal Discrimination in Jury Selection (p.79), gave a shout out to the NAACP Amicus Brief that persuaded the Iowa Supreme Court to embrace the most progressive fair cross-section ruling yet in State v. Lilly, 930 N.W.2d (Iowa 2019). https://eji.org/reports/race-and-the-jury-overview/.
Russ often states that the great strength of the NAACP has been the advocacy synergy achieved as a result of “the NAACP’s dynamic combination of grass roots advocacy and law reform lawyering.” That synergy was clearly evident in 2020 and then 2021, when the Iowa-NAACP was instrumental in persuading both the Governor to automatically restore voting rights to most persons with a felony conviction who have served their time and the Iowa Supreme Court to amend its Rules to make eligible for jury service all such persons whose civil rights have been restored. The 2022 calendar year Iowa jury data demonstrates that significant progress has been made in achieving representative juries in Iowa. Russ has been honored repeatedly by the NAACP at the local, state, regional, and national levels for his selfless legal work supporting equity for over a half a century.
During his acceptance speech, Russ expressed that he is always moved when he is on Notre Dame’s campus and sees the black-and-white photograph of MLK and Father Ted, arm and arm at the 1964 civil rights rally at Soldiers Field, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Russ emphasized in his remarks that MLK and Notre Dame’s President, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, were the inspiration for his racial justice commitment, forged in 1968, to become a civil rights lawyer. Fr. Hesburgh was a founding member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and is widely credited with drafting much of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Russ quoted one of Father Ted’s Commencement Addresses as capturing the aspiration by which he has sought to live his life: “Be the kind of person who not only understands the injustices of this life, but is also willing to do something about them.” https://hesburgh.nd.edu/fr-teds-life/champion-of-civil-rights/martin-luther-king-jr/.
A former Notre Dame Glee Club singer, Russ closed with a heartfelt song: “I sought my Soul, my soul I could not see; I sought my God, my God eluded me; I sought my sisters and my brothers one day, and suddenly I found all three.”