Board Member Michael Ratner '66 Receives 2006 Alumni Achievement Award

August 28, 2006

Center Board Member Michael Ratner '66 was honored in July as a winner of one of two 2006 Alumni Achievement Awards. Icelandic Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde '73 was the other award recipient. The Alumni Achievement Award honors graduates who have made distinguished contributions to their professions or fields of endeavor. It is the highest form of University recognition bestowed exclusively on alumni.

Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, has spent decades fighting on behalf of those denied their human rights around the world. He won a landmark case involving Guantanamo Bay detainees before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The seed for Ratner's life as an activist was planted at Brandeis during the turbulent 1960s. His eyes were opened to the world around him by frequent student-led protests, activist professors like Max Lerner, and visits to campus by leading political figures such as Malcolm X.

"Those years really changed my life," said Ratner. "It's clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist. The intellectual atmosphere at Brandeis was truly amazing. It expanded my mind in a way it had never been expanded before."

Ratner graduated from Brandeis with a bachelor's degree in English, then headed to Columbia University Law School. While many of his fellow students worked during the summer at large firms preparing for corporate careers, Ratner was pulled in another direction.

During the summer of 1968 – following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. – he worked in legal defense for the NAACP in Baltimore. "That's when I decided I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer," he said. "I felt I could help to right the wrongs in society and help vulnerable groups."

Ratner has litigated numerous cases opposing U.S.-initiated wars from Central America to Iraq and his Center for Constitutional Rights has challenged the Patriot Act. In June 2004, he and his co-counsel won a major victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Guantanamo Bay detainees they represented had the right to test the legality of their detentions.