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A View From the Hill:
Roscoe Jones Jr. 03

Senior counsel to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker carries on public service legacy

by Eric Williamson

Roscoe Jones Jr.

On a day in which Democrats staged a summer sit-in on the floor of the House, Roscoe Jones Jr. ’03 surfaced from his own work behind the scenes in the Senate, energized. Jones is senior counsel to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. An amendment to a Senate spending bill was in play that would overhaul the nation’s background checks for gun purchasers.

“Much of my day was scrambling to get Senator Booker up to speed on that amendment, the contents thereof, and how he should vote on it,” Jones said.

Leading the senator’s work not just on gun policy, but on criminal justice reform, civil rights, judicial nominations and other constitutional law matters, Jones said Booker is a personal hero for being out front on the issues of the day, including efforts to ameliorate mass incarceration.

“I admire him greatly,” Jones said. “I work for a senator who is smart, has supreme judgement, impeccable character and deep trust in his staff. And yet he is a true senator in the sense that he knows the details of legislation as well as, if not better than, his staff does. He is also very kind human being with a generous heart, who makes me a better person just being around him.”

While anticipating Booker’s needs drives his to-do list, another personal hero is so integral to Jones’ daily sense of purpose, he’s part of his DNA. Roscoe Jones Sr., a Mississippi civil rights activist, always stressed public interest work to his family.

Roscoe Jones Sr.

Roscoe Jones Sr. talks with Queens College
graduate Mark Levy and fellow high school students
Lelia Jean Waterhouse and Caroline Tartt during the
Freedom Summer in 1964. Image courtesy Queens
College Civil Rights Archives

“I grew up in a home where civil rights was part of the family business and where we had conversations around the kitchen table about rights and the duties of citizenship,” Jones said.

In the 1960s, the senior Jones challenged segregationist policies in his hometown of Meridian and served as a youth leader for the NAACP, despite the very real threat of retaliation. Three of his fellow activists and friends—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andy Goodman—were murdered by Ku Klux Klan members in response to their civil rights work.

Jones didn’t forget his father’s sacrifices and lessons when he left home to attend Stanford, and later UVA Law. While at Virginia, Jones was among students who pushed to create the Center for the Study of Race and Law, and also served as editor-in- chief of the Journal of Social Policy & the Law.

Over time, Jones has worked in all three branches of government and in higher education. He clerked for two federal judges. He served as special counsel to Tom Perez, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division (now secretary of labor), and later, as an assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle. He taught administrative law and civil rights policy at the University of Washington School of Law and Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, respectively. And, before joining Booker, he was senior counsel to Sen. Patrick Leahy, when Leahy was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For his work, Jones has received several honors, most recently having been named a Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow at Harvard Law School for his dedication to public interest.

Jones said his current view from the Hill can’t be beat. His job comes with a large amount of responsibility, but also a high degree of satisfaction when good legislation becomes law.

“It is very difficult to get a piece of legislation passed,” he said. “The upside is once you hit, you hit big, because you have a chance to really make a difference and an impact on a country of 300 million people. And that’s pretty special.”