U.S. District Court Judge Jay C. Zainey didn’t get his job 14 years ago without first interrupting two of his interviewers mid-interrogation.
The two interviewers, both known for their work in support of conservative thought, wanted to know right away about Zainey’s work as a criminal defense attorney. After their second question, Zainey said during an address at the University of New Orleans Tuesday, he paused.
“I looked at each of them, now thinking that I was flunking the interview, and I boldly, but courteously, stated, ‘I think you both are labeling me a liberal,’” Zainey recalled. “’Whether a person has a label of liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, or a defense attorney or a prosecutor, all six labels should have one thing in common: the pursuit of justice.”
“Good answer,” he said they responded.
Zainey, a 1973 UNO graduate and 2012 Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, delivered the Homer L. Hitt Presidential Distinguished Lecture Tuesday in the University Center’s Sen. Theodore “Ted” M. Hickey Ballroom. The lecture, entitled, “Social Justice, Community Service and the Rule of Law” was made possible by the University’s Founders Club as part of “Making History: A Celebration of University of New Orleans Leadership,” a weeklong series of events commemorating the investiture of President John W. Nicklow and honoring UNO's 2016 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, Mark Romig.
Zainey said that the practice of social justice is not the domain of one political view or another, but an adherence to the understanding that “we all share a common humanity and have a right to equal treatment.”
“We certainly recognize that people come from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different economic and social standing, different abilities,” he said. “So if we truly believe in social justice, what can we do to change people’s worlds?”
Zainey recounted the names of numerous UNO alumni who have given of themselves and devoted their work or lives to improving the lives of others. Among the many he referenced besides Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation: Gary Solomon (B.S., ’79), Nancy Degan (B.A., ’79), John Finan (B.S. ’69), Raphael Cassimere (B.A., ’66), Leon Cannizzaro (B.A., ’75), Joel Chaisson (B.S., ’80), Newell Normand (B.S., ’88), Jim Tucker (B.S., ’86) and many more.
He marveled at the journey UNO has taken since it awarded 118 degrees in 1962 – that 80,000 degrees have been conferred in the 54 years since.
“I am in awe at the influence that UNO has had on so many of us and on our city, our state and our nation,” Zainey said. “Under the leadership of Dr. Nicklow, we will continue to grow and to serve more people in our community.”
The “Making History” celebration continues Wednesday with Nicklow’s formal investiture ceremony in the quad in front of the Earl K. Long Library and Thursday with the Distinguished Alumni gala at the National WWII Museum.
For more information, go to makinghistory.uno.edu.