Daily Inspo This Black lawyer was a freedom fighter. He deserves a statue.
The story of Robert Morris, one of the first African American lawyers in the United States, is worth telling as part of a new commemorative landscape in Boston.
Born on June 28, 1824, Morris was raised in an abolitionist household in the seaport city of Salem, Massachusetts. At 13, he moved to Boston where he worked as a servant in the household of Louisa and Ellis G. Loring, a white abolitionist couple. Ellis Loring, a lawyer, asked Morris to assist in his legal practice. The erudite Morris soon found in law his life’s passion. A legal apprenticeship with Loring prepared him to pass the Massachusetts bar in 1847, making him the second African American lawyer in the state.
In just a few years, Morris had defended African American civil rights in legal cases on Boston school desegregation, slavery and citizenship. Though the nation debated Black citizenship, Morris never did. He thwarted colonization schemes to send African Americans back to Africa, affirming, “This is our country — we are American citizens. Everything about us is American. The sweat of our brows has watered the soil, our labor has cut down trees, cleared the wilderness, built villages, towns and cities. This is our country and our home … [and] we intend to stay.”
Morris worked outside of the courtroom, too, and his abolitionist activities prompted threats of torture, imprisonment and death. In 1850, after the passage of the federal fugitive slave law, Boston became the site of daring slave rescues. In 1851, Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave from Virginia, was arrested in Boston and remanded back to slavery. Morris and other abolitionists devised a plan to create chaos in and around the courthouse in order to rescue Minkins, hide him at Elizabeth Riley’s house on Southac Street and ferry him to Canada. It worked. But Morris and eight others were arrested and tried on a federal charge of aiding and abetting. Securing Minkins’s freedom had jeopardized Morris’s own. Morris was later acquitted, but the incident served as a grim reminder of the often-inadequate legal protections for African Americans.
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Perspective I’m a Black man. This is my story about the police
Don Lewis is a double Harvard graduate lawyer. The following post on his Facebook page has gone virual. You can read his full story here >
More of This A historic win for Indigenous people
Julian Brave NoiseCat is a member of the Secwepemc and St'at'imc Nations
Mari Hulbutta, my friend and suitemate from college—we were both members of the Native American student group—couldn’t sleep Wednesday, the night before the Supreme Court issued its decision in the landmark Native-treaty-rights case, McGirt v. Oklahoma. Hulbutta is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and a descendant of the Muscogee Creek and Seminole Nations, all in present-day Oklahoma. The McGirt case centered on whether Jimcy McGirt, a Seminole man found guilty of sex crimes, could be tried by the state of Oklahoma. McGirt contended that because his offenses occurred on lands guaranteed to the Muscogee Creek Nation in an 1866 treaty—one never legally extinguished by Congress—only federal authorities could prosecute his case. The state of Oklahoma has no jurisdiction on Indian land. Tribes can prosecute most crimes involving Native Americans in their own courts. Major crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping, rise to the federal government. The Muscogee Creek became involved with McGirt’s litigation because it had broad implications for their treaty rights, sovereignty, and jurisdiction. Tangentially, the case also involved the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw tribes, all relocated on the Trail of Tears from what is now the American South to eastern Oklahoma. “I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go,” Hulbutta told me by phone Thursday. “I was thinking about the decision and wondering what it was going to mean for my family and Muscogee relatives.”
Hulbutta recently graduated from Columbia Law School and is studying for the California bar. For many Native people, becoming a lawyer is kind of a thing. Congress has ratified more than 370 treaties with Native nations—treaties that the United States Constitution describes as the “supreme Law of the Land.” But it has broken just about every single one. That’s a lot of injustice, which makes for a lot of work for a lot of Native attorneys. “Honestly, growing up in Oklahoma as a Native person was one of the biggest drives to go to law school,” she explained. “Up until today, it was unclear how I could even describe my tribal lands to people.”
In the long Indigenous struggle for justice, McGirt v. Oklahoma might be one of the most important Supreme Court cases of all time. The decision, 5–4 in favor of McGirt and the tribe, acknowledges that Congress has never extinguished the reservation lands set aside for the Muscogee Creek Nation in 1866. Or, put more plainly, 19 million acres composing 47 percent of the state of Oklahoma—an area that’s home to 1.8 million people—is still Native land. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch grasped the gravity of the ruling. “On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” he wrote in an opening line sure to reverberate through Indian law and history. “Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.” That the government must keep its promises and follow the law should hardly be controversial. Yet for the treaty rights of Indigenous nations to finally be recognized—by an appointee of Donald Trump, no less—is bracing, perhaps even startling, to me and other Native people, given how long the United States has denied tribes their dignity, and how this administration has elsewhere attempted to turn back the clock.
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But Also… Indigenous people deserve more
Nick Estes is an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico
The U.S. legal system from the Supreme Court on down delivered a suite of rulings over the past week that have reaffirmed Indigenous land rights and environmental protections. From the Virginias to the Dakotas, they pushed back on the industrial development that would have further imperiled tribal lands and the environment.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that 3 million acres of eastern Oklahoma — including most of Tulsa — remain American Indian reservation land. Last Monday, the court also denied a Trump administration request to allow the construction of the long-delayed northern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry slurry crude from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska.
On the same day, a federal judge ordered that oil must stop flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois, by Aug. 5. And the day before, two of the United States' largest utility companies — Duke Energy and Dominion Energy — announced that, because of pending lawsuits from environmentalists, they had canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have transported natural gas from Virginia to North Carolina.
These are welcome legal victories. But taken together, they only serve to highlight that Indigenous people can't merely rely on the courts of the conqueror. Because courts can only protect our land, not expand it, much more is needed. To realize a complete vision of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power — the kind that energized the 2016 Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline but that in fact goes back much further.
For the courts can't even always protect our land. Back in 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the Black Hills had been stolen from the Lakotas in 1876 in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. But the court didn't award the land back, proposing instead a monetary settlement per the Fifth Amendment's "just compensation" clause. The Lakota tribe responded that "the Black Hills are not for sale," and to this day it refuses to accept nothing short of a return of its land.
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Say it Louder It’s unsafe to take the bar exam. So put new lawyers to work without it.
The state Supreme Court, the State Bar of California and about 9,000 recent law school graduates find themselves in a jam. It is almost the traditional time for the July bar exam, the annual hazing ritual that determines whether students have wasted three years of their lives or, instead, will be licensed and begin their legal careers.
But we’re in the midst of a pandemic. There’s no way those thousands of prospective attorneys are going to be jammed into convention centers and hotel ballrooms around the state for two days of test-taking in close quarters, with face masks or without. The exam has been scrapped, so what now? Every option would heap additional headaches on the legal and testing industries and additional hardships on law graduates.
Delayed exams mean additional months in which trained lawyers can’t practice their profession, can’t earn their living and can’t begin paying back the student loans that many have amassed. Online exams pose a host of technical problems and, depending on how and when they are administered, call into question the validity of the results. October exams mean scoring won’t be completed until mid-January — too late for unsuccessful applicants to study effectively for the February do-over.
The best of the bad options is to grant provisional licenses to members of the class of 2020 right away, without tests, and allow them to practice their new profession and earn their living under the supervision of lawyers who were licensed in the old-fashioned way. Their licenses would be valid until they could take an online bar exam in October or the traditional in-person exam next year, or whenever it can next be safely administered.
Read the story on LA Times
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