Say It Louder So when are we going to talk about racism at law schools?
Tyler Ambrose, Zarinah Mustafa, and Sherin Nassar are students at Harvard Law School.
Corporations, newsrooms, and political institutions have faced public pressure to denounce and combat racism as activists nationwide have pushed for police reform. However, there is an institution guilty of perpetuating racial inequality that we have yet to scrutinize: American law schools.
These institutions produce the legal professionals we rely on to interpret and uphold the law, such as the district attorneys who prosecute the police. Yet, they are overwhelmingly misguided and underinformed on issues of racism in the law. And it is not entirely their fault.
Law schools are complicit. As rising second-year Black and brown students at Harvard Law School, we are keenly aware of our privilege. While America is embroiled in a people’s movement for justice long denied, we recognize and embrace our responsibility to challenge the racially sterile curriculum of law school classrooms.
We cannot allow these legal institutions to continue producing race-illiterate lawyers. The consequence of this illiteracy is not hypothetical. It is police killing Black people with impunity, and harsher sentences for Black and brown men, women and children. It is judges selling Black boys to prisons for profit. It is protesters marching for weeks during a pandemic.
Law students are told time and again that they are the next generation of great leaders. That their seatmates will be future district attorneys, attorneys general, senators, and Supreme Court justices. This is true, but if you ask us, it is utterly terrifying. First-year law school classes establish students’ foundational legal toolbox. However, many students graduate without ever engaging in a guided classroom discussion on police brutality, systemic racism, the prison industrial complex, broken windows policing, or mass incarceration. When Black and brown students raise these issues in class—and it is almost always these students—they are told these conversations can wait for a more appropriate forum and should be reserved for upper-level elective courses.
Read the story on The Appeal
Daily Inspiration Meet the lawyer—descended from slaves—who devised the legal strategy to tear down racist statues
It was an explosive question, delivered by text message, and Rita Davis was ready for it: Could the governor simply take down Richmond's divisive statue of Robert E. Lee?
As legal counsel to Gov. Ralph Northam, Davis had been researching that very topic for a year. Now it was being posed by her colleague, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, who had just watched a crowd angry about police violence against African Americans gather outside a state office building as Northam (D) held a news conference inside.
Moran was thinking of Charlottesville in 2017, when white supremacists rallied around a statue of Lee and a young counterprotester was killed. Richmond’s even bigger monument was now the focal point of demonstrations. What if alt-right groups confronted them? It could be a disaster.
So Moran asked Davis and chief of staff Clark Mercer whether Northam could remove it. And Davis was unequivocal: Yes. The law was on his side.
Two days later, Northam announced the statue would come down, triggering a fusillade of lawsuits and intensifying the spotlight on the monument amid a national reckoning over racial injustice.
At the heart of the issue in Richmond is Davis, who sees her whole career as building toward this moment.
No woman had served as top legal adviser to a Virginia governor before she got the job in 2018. Davis, 48, knew the reverence attached to Lee, because she had walked by his tomb every day as a student at Washington and Lee University. She had been a patrol officer in conservative Lynchburg and believed in law and order.
And she was black and felt deeply the need for change. All those elements, she believed, were coming together in one unexpected event.
“It does seem like it is fortuitous, that maybe somehow my experience . . . will contribute to this landscape of change in Virginia history,” she said in an interview.
Read the story on Washington Post
Speaking Of… This country needs to finally talk about what it owes Black Americans
Nikole Hannah-Jones is a domestic correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on racial injustice. In 2020, she won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her essay in The 1619 Project, which traces the central role black Americans have played in the nation, including its vast material success and democracy itself.
It feels different this time.
Black Americans protesting the violation of their rights are a defining tradition of this country. In the last century, there have been hundreds of uprisings in black communities in response to white violence. Some have produced substantive change. After the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, uprisings in more than 100 cities broke the final congressional deadlock over whether it should be illegal to deny people housing simply because they descended from people who had been enslaved. The Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, gender and religion, among other categories, seemed destined to die in Congress as white Southerners were joined by many of their Northern counterparts who knew housing segregation was central to how Jim Crow was accomplished in the North. But just seven days after King’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law from the smoldering capital, which was still under protection from the National Guard.
Most of the time these uprisings have produced hand-wringing and consternation but few necessary structural changes. After black uprisings swept the nation in the mid-1960s, Johnson created the Kerner Commission to examine their causes, and the report it issued in 1968 recommended a national effort to dismantle segregation and structural racism across American institutions. It was shelved by the president, like so many similar reports, and instead white Americans voted in a “law and order” president, Richard Nixon. The following decades brought increased police militarization, law-enforcement spending and mass incarceration of black Americans.
The changes we’re seeing today in some ways seem shockingly swift, and in other ways rage-inducingly slow. After years of black-led activism, protest and organizing, the weeks of protests since George Floyd’s killing have moved lawmakers to ban chokeholds by police officers, consider stripping law enforcement of the qualified immunity that has made it almost impossible to hold responsible officers who kill, and discuss moving significant parts of ballooning police budgets into funding for social services. Black Lives Matter, the group founded in 2013 by three black women, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, saw its support among American voters rise almost as much in the two weeks after Floyd’s killing than in the last two years. According to polling by Civiqs, more than 50 percent of registered voters now say they support the movement.
Read the story on NY Times
More of This Gay rights and Trans rights are indivisible
Alexander Chen is the founding director of the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic at Harvard Law School, where he teaches Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and the Law. He was the first openly transgender editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is also a co-author of the Trans Youth Handbook.
Since the start of the modern LGBT movement in the 1960s, some members of the community have questioned the degree of common interest between lesbian, gay, and bisexual people on the one hand and transgender people on the other. Notwithstanding similar experiences of discrimination and a shared history of activism, members of both communities have sometimes viewed one another with mutual suspicion. LGB people, protective of hard-won legal, political, and societal victories, have worried that association with an even more unfamiliar and stigmatized minority group would imperil those advances. Trans people, weary of advocates prioritizing gay rights over trans rights, have worried that LGB people might achieve greater equality and then abandon the field without extending a hand to transgender people. But the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Monday in Bostock v. Clayton County provides the strongest possible counterargument that when LGBT people band together to press for rights for the entire community, they can achieve momentous victories that would not have been possible working on their own.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock focused on the meaning of sex discrimination for the purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which restricts discrimination in the workplace. Writing for a 6–3 majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and discrimination on the basis of gender identity are forms of sex discrimination. At different intervals, both gay and trans cases have played critical roles in developing the legal reasoning that resulted in Monday’s decision.
From the moment of the bill’s passage in 1964, LGBT plaintiffs began filing lawsuits against employers, arguing that they are protected by the ban on sex discrimination. In the 1960s and 1970s, those arguments were uniformly rejected by the federal courts, which viewed sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination as distinct concepts from sex discrimination. Many federal judges also viewed LGBT people as sexual deviants undeserving of rights.
Read the story on Slate
More of This Too DACA isn’t what made me American. Being a DREAMER is.
JIN K. PARK is a second-year medical student at Harvard Medical School. He was the first DACA recipient to win a Rhodes Scholarship.
When the Supreme Court announced its ruling in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals case on Thursday, I—like many other DACA recipients in America—felt an incredulous relief. For months, the possibility that our lives in America would be upended by just five people’s votes hung over us. Indeed, a central part of the undocumented experience for the past eight years has been to weather constant whiplash from a never-ending cycle of highs and lows across all three branches of government. But now, it seemed, the law would make room for what had always been true for us: Home is here.
These were the words DACA recipients chanted outside the Court last November, as we waited to enter oral arguments in the case. We still don’t know if we can count on staying for good, but we have always known that we are Americans, and that our advocacy for our place here is an essentially American endeavor. This is a country whose vision of citizenship is one of common responsibility—about making this place a home through our commitment to it, and constantly improving it for all who participate in its customs and institutions.
A persistent belief about America is that it is exceptional because it is governed by its people. Phrases like “To form a more perfect Union” and “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” replay in our national memory, reminding us that American self-government, as well as the most durable features of its political culture—separation of powers, rule of law, principled pluralism, and a scheme of ordered liberty—can best allow popular sovereignty to flourish. Indeed, a core assumption of American republicanism is that citizenship entails this responsibility of self-governance.
Our activism was, in a key sense, always an endeavor of self-government, and it required an exquisite appreciation of the benefits and burdens of American self-government: that citizenship is not about picking a political party, nor is it about transmitting a list of preferences through the ballot box. Rather, it is a constantly discursive process to create the United States as a political community, a place where every member of this society is able to partake in its common political life. It is what Frederick Douglass challenged America to live up to: a nation where, despite its profound contradictions, citizens agitate their neighbors and collectively use their voices to bring the country to “have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution” and its values.
Read the story on The Atlantic
Less of This The Supreme Court justice who believes white people are innocent
Earlier this term, the Supreme Court held, 6-3, in Ramos v. Louisiana that criminal defendants in state court may be convicted only by a unanimous jury.
The practical impact of Ramos is small — until recently, only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, permitted a non-unanimous jury to convict a defendant. And Louisiana recently amended its constitution to eliminate this practice. But advocates saw in the ruling a big symbolic change in favor of racial justice. As the Court’s lead opinion pointed out, non-unanimous juries are a practice rooted in white supremacy.
One justice took umbrage with that invocation of racism: Justice Samuel Alito. His dissent was the latest in a string of opinions bristling at the idea that racism still shapes many policymakers’ decisions today, and that the legacy of past racism still affects people of color. In the most noteworthy of those opinions, 2018’s Abbott v. Perez, Alito convinced a majority of his colleagues to write such a strong presumption of white racial innocence into the law governing racial voter discrimination that it is now virtually impossible for voting rights plaintiffs to prove that state lawmakers acted with racist intent.
Alito does not appear driven by broad skepticism of racial issues. While he has repeatedly lashed out at the mere suggestion that white policymakers may have been motivated by racism, he took a drastically different tone in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009). In that case, Alito wrote a lengthy concurring opinion suggesting that a cohort of mostly white firefighters were denied promotions due to a conspiracy between New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and a local black preacher.
In other words, when black or brown people have been on the receiving end of allegedly racist treatment, Alito preaches that we shouldn’t jump to such conclusions; yet in a case where white people were allegedly harmed, he wasn’t so cautious.
With his Ramos opinion, Alito continues to build a distinctive profile as a jurist: He has emerged as the Court’s foremost defender of white racial innocence.
Read the interview on Vox