Laura Murphy1

Laura Murphy has decided to step down as the leader of the ACLU’s Washington office.

Laura W. Murphy, a nationally-known and respected civil rights and civil liberties leader, has decided to step down as the leader of the ACLU’s Washington office after 17 years of leadership and activism. She was thanked for her service by some of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill.

Fifty people crammed into the Mansfield Room on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 2 to sing the praises of Murphy for her work. Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, said that Murphy made a difference in the lives of all Americans.

“When you look at such issues as the sentencing discrepancies on crack versus powder cocaine and on campaign finance reform, you will see Laura Murphy’s fingerprints,” Romero said. “She is known for her skill to work across the aisle, whether it is Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).”

Murphy is the daughter of the late Judge William Murphy and Madeline Murphy, prominent fixtures in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood. She is a descendant of AFRO founder John H. Murphy Sr., and is on the newspaper company’s board of directors.

As a teenager, Murphy developed a reputation for speaking up for herself and articulating what she felt was right. In junior high, she refused to cite the “Pledge of Allegiance” and fought an attempt for suspension.

In high school, a counselor tried to discourage her from applying to Ivy League schools but she didn’t listen. Murphy eventually chose to go to Wellesley College, after being accept to Brown University and Radcliffe College, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1976.She worked on Capitol Hill for U.S. Reps. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) and Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), and joined the ACLU as a lobbyist from 1979-1982. Murphy moved to California and served in a number of positions such as the chief of staff to then Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown.

In 1991, Murphy came back to Washington and served as D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly’s special assistant on tourism.

Murphy returned to the ACLU in 1993 as director of the Washington Legislative Office. She made history as the first woman and first African American to hold that position. During her first term, she is credited for successfully lobbying on issues such as family leave, religious liberty, abortion rights, and the Motor Voter Bill that allows people to register to vote and conduct transactions at their state or jurisdictional Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 2005, she started her own private consulting firm but came back to the ACLU Washington directorship in 2010.

Among the congressional leaders that stopped by to commend Murphy for her work were House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Conyers, McConnell, and Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) and Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). Hoyer said that Murphy comes from a great Maryland family and is worthy of all of the praise due her.

“I want to thank you for all you have done,” Hoyer said. “There are millions of people who will never know your name but will benefit from your work.”

McConnell, whose appearance surprised almost everyone, said that he and Murphy were a political odd couple.

“I bet I am the last person that you expected to see here,” McConnell said. “Laura Murphy was a great ally in the push for campaign finance reform. She did great work and there is nobody I respect more in Washington than Laura Murphy.”

Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that only Murphy “could bring together Steny Hoyer and Mitchell McConnell at the same occasion.”

“She runs with the foxes and runs with the hounds and can do it with style and grace,” Henderson said.

Ralph Neas, who is the former leader of People for the American Way, said it bluntly when it came to Murphy. “You look like Bambi but you bite like Jaws,” Neas said.

Murphy received a letter from President Obama praising her years of service and statements by members of Congress were entered into the Congressional Record on her behalf.

Murphy was overwhelmed by the response.

“I am leaving the ACLU but I am not leaving town,” she said. “I tried to work hard to make sure that the First Amendment would be true for more Americans.”

Murphy said it is important that Americans “get beyond party and get back to our core values.”

She had a word of encouragement for her staff. “Be strong and be vigilant,” she said.

Murphy’s plans include re-establishing her business and returning to school as a student at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.