More of This One of the brightest legal stars is a DACA recipient
Agnes Lee swore she would never become a lawyer.
Growing up in Los Angeles, she saw many in her community incarcerated for petty drug charges. Several of her friends’ family members were deported due to their immigration status. Lee — who is undocumented herself — learned from her parents to fear the police and remain quiet, particularly at airports. “The best thing you could do with the law was to stay away from it,” she said.
Ironically, Lee chose to go to college at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Studying international relations attracted her initially, but she soon found herself at odds with America’s fundamental approach to diplomacy. How can we fight wars over democracy abroad, she wondered — including the one fought on her native land — if we don’t live up to those same ideals on U.S. soil? For Lee, addressing the root of those problems meant focusing on the legal system at home. And that meant becoming a lawyer.
Today, Lee, 26, is the editor-in-chief of the prestigious Georgetown Law Review. And she’s committed to using that platform to challenging our existing system on social justice issues.
Lee was elected to the position in March and leads what is believed to be the most diverse class of editors, according to The Hoya, Georgetown’s student publication.
“My mom and I kind of laughed about the fact that when we go into the U.S. she was thought, ‘You're never going to learn how to speak English. This is never going to happen.’ And then I was eventually elected editor-in-chief,” Lee said. “All of that just kind of feels like a dream, but here we are now.”
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In Memory She was the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court clerk
The first time Karen Hastie Williams remembered encountering racism was at a meeting with her junior high school guidance counselor.
Mrs. Williams attended an integrated school in Philadelphia in the 1950s. She had white friends and came from a long line of distinguished Black lawyers and judges; Thurgood Marshall was her godfather. It didn’t occur to her that someone might stand in her way because of her skin color.
So when the counselor asked about her career aspirations, she didn’t think twice before saying she wanted to be a lawyer. But instead of encouraging her, the counselor said she would someday make “a really good store clerk.”
“And I thought to myself, ‘Not quite what I had in mind,’” Mrs. Williams said in recalling the incident in a 2006 interview for the American Bar Association. “But that was the first time that I really got struck by the fact that there was, among many in the white population, a low expectation of what Blacks have the intellectual capability to achieve and had the drive to go after.”
She took the counselor’s disdain as a challenge. After graduating from college and earning a master’s degree, she attended law school at the Catholic University of America in Washington, clerked for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and, in 1974, became the first Black woman hired as a clerk on the Supreme Court, working for Justice Marshall.
Mrs. Williams died on July 7 at her home in Washington. She was 76. Her son Bo said the cause was complications of frontotemporal dementia.
Mrs. Williams broke other glass ceilings as well: She was the first woman and the first person of color to make partner at Crowell & Moring, a white-shoe law firm in Washington, and she repeated the same achievement on a series of corporate and nonprofit boards.
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Say Her Name The nurse who became a lawyer who became a transgender health leader
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonemergency surgeries were suspended, delaying gender affirming procedures for months. Paula M. Neira and other nurses were redeployed to respond to the pandemic, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health had to put a moratorium on new patient intakes.
“Paula is a clinical kind of leader in health care, because I really saw that in COVID,” said Dr. Deborah Baker, the Senior Vice President for Nursing for the Johns Hopkins Health System.
“Paula became a very integral part in the Department of Nursing and then for the hospital in manning the emergency command center and using all her skills to help us plan for these surges in staffing and resources,” Baker continued.
Since opening in 2017, the Center for Transgender Health has about 50 clinicians involved in comprehensive transgender health care and has interacted with over 2,800 patients. They offer gender affirmation surgery and nonsurgical services across such fields as dermatology, fertility, and voice therapy. What drives Neira, the center’s inaugural clinical program director, is the oath she took as a U.S. Navy officer.
“I swore that I would support and defend the Constitution and that I bear true faith and allegiance to it,” said Neira. The Desert Storm veteran served primarily as a surface warfare officer until 1991.
“When people are denied access to medically necessary care simply because of other people’s prejudice, that offends the notion that we’re all equal and that we’re all free and that we all deserve dignity and respect,” she said. “That’s why I do the work to try to remove those barriers, to try to allow people to live their most holistically, healthy and authentic lives.”
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Say It Louder Our families fought and died for civil rights. Don’t let voting restrictions stand.
Ms. Evers is chairman emeritus of the N.A.A.C.P. and the widow of Medgar Evers. Mr. Wallace is an attorney and the grandson of Henry A. Wallace, the 33rd Vice President of the United States.
I’m Myrlie Evers. Right before he was murdered, my husband, Medgar Evers, told me, “Don’t ever give up on those things that you believe in.” Medgar and I had a transcendent connection, and these words have lifted my spirits throughout the decades-long fight for justice against Medgar’s assassin, my time at the N.A.A.C.P. and my run for Congress against a far-right extremist. Now, those words guide me whenever I see things Medgar fought and died for being erased by misguided politicians.
I’m Scott Wallace. Nothing inspires me more than the courage of my grandfather, Henry A. Wallace, campaigning for president in the Deep South on a platform to end Jim Crow in 1948, undaunted by death threats. In my career in law and philanthropy, I have been guided every day by his fearless commitment to robust and inclusive democracy, and to an activist role for government on behalf of ordinary Americans.
Medgar Evers grew up in Mississippi during the Depression and fought on the beaches of Normandy, only to come home to witness grotesque inequality and violence against African Americans. He dedicated the rest of his life to fighting for civil rights and voting rights.
Mr. Wallace rose from secretary of agriculture to become Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third-term vice president, but was replaced on the Democratic ticket with Harry Truman in 1944. His calls to end poll taxes outraged party bosses. He never gave up fighting for progressive values and international collaboration toward world peace.
Today, Aug. 6, America commemorates the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. But in the face of a relentless assault from the right — not just on who gets to vote, and how, but on who decides which votes count — there’s more to mourn than to celebrate.
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