#ChangeLawyer Sonia Sotomayor wants Latinx law students to believe in themselves
In the U.S. Supreme Court’s 228 year history, there have been 114 judges, and of these 114 judges, four have been women and three have been people of color. To date, there has only been one woman of color to ever hold this position: Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
As a self-described “Nuyorican”, Sotomayor’s place on the Supreme Court was a major win for Latinx representation in positions of power, and younger generations took notice. Sotomayor’s nomination was the first time many Latinx students saw themselves represented in the court of law, and one reason many decided to pursue careers in the judicial system.
For 24-year-old immigration-law student Lilianna Romero, seeing Sotomayor become a Supreme Court justice was a pivotal moment in her life. Before Sotomayor’s appointment, Romero tells Teen Vogue she was uncertain about attending law school, but after seeing a Latinx woman become a justice, her decision to pursue a law degree was all but cemented.
“Sonia Sotomayor inspires me every day as a Latinx student, in the sense that I can see someone from the same background as me accomplish what I want to accomplish one day,” Romero says. “Her appointment as a justice has influenced the way I approach the law. I am now more confident that I belong in this profession just as much as everyone else.”
The UC Davis law student emphasizes that Sotomayor’s influence will extend to future generations as well. “She serves to show everyone that [Latinx people] are here to break norms and succeed. Future generations can see themselves in her and feel represented in our government,” Romero says. “She is creating a domino effect of strong Latinxs who will teach each other, support each other, and always strive for the very best.”
Law-school hopeful Jazmine Santacruz echoes Romero’s sentiments, saying she hopes Sotomayor’s spot on the court will show other Latinx students that “law school is not just for affluent white males,” and that being an attorney can help give a voice to underrepresented communities and “create change among systematically oppressive laws.”
“I have realized how incredibly important it is to see someone that looks like me hold such a high position in the legal court system of the United States,” 27-year-old Santacruz tells Teen Vogue. “Knowing that there is someone who holds this ability to spark change and comes from a similar background makes me hopeful for the future of our legal system. We are finally starting to get more representation and voices from marginalized groups.”
For Yale Law student Sarah Camiscoli, Sotomayor influenced her not only as a future lawyer, but as a teacher and student advocate. “Her story inspired me to honor my family's history in the Bronx, to elevate the sacrifices that my parents made to send me to school, and to take responsibility for my power to enact institutional change,” she tells Teen Vogue. “Her work at Princeton University, leading activism for diversity in the hiring faculty, inspired me to be courageous in my advocacy for school reform.”
Camiscoli is the founder of IntegrateNYC, an organization dedicated to designing solutions for school integration and equity. She says Sotomayor’s life-work has legitimized her efforts to expand the conversation around culturally responsive curriculum and hiring practices in the eyes of many local policy makers.
“Sotomayor inspires Latinx students to be unstoppable in their ambition, to have integrity with their values, and to have pride in their story of resilience,” Camiscoli says.
And she’s right. Having Latinx representation and visibility in the most powerful positions in the U.S. judicial system will change the future of American politics. Future generations of Latinx students will see themselves represented in a predominately white sector, be inspired by Sotomayor’s pioneering efforts, and use their voices to advance American society into the 21st century.
Story by Teen Vogue >
#ChangeLawyer Part 2 I’m an ex-convict and I want to become a lawyer
The following editorial was written by Reginald Dwayne Betts, a Yale Law grad, poet, memoirist, and teacher.
One afternoon in the fall of 2016, I sat in a windowless visiting room at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, Conn. A recent graduate of Yale Law School, I was a certified legal intern on a fellowship in the New Haven public defender’s office. J., a lanky 18-year-old brown-skinned kid sitting across from me, was my first client. He didn’t talk. Instead he stared at me as if I were the police.
The prosecutor thought he should serve time in prison. I let J. know this and described what would happen next: a series of court dates, a bond-reduction motion, plea-bargain offers. After remaining silent for nearly 40 minutes, he leaned forward in the blue plastic chair, cutting me off, and asked, “Aren’t you the one who did time in prison?” With a single question, this kid reminded me of what a law degree, even one from Yale, could not do — make my own criminal history vanish.
On Dec. 7, 1996, a month and two days after my 16th birthday, I climbed with four other people into a beat-up ink-colored sedan in Prince George’s County, Md. During that year, I’d read the Evelyn Wood guide to speed reading and J. California Cooper’s novel “The Wake of the Wind.”
The driver, who was in his early 20s, was a stranger to me. I half-knew his cousin. In the passenger seat, another face I’d just met said a robbery would pad our pockets. Weed, ignorance and a desire for a come-up, wanting just a few more dollars than we had, made us believe him.
After meeting with J., I sat in my office with his file, a thin sheaf of no more than a dozen pages. I pulled out my own criminal record. One hundred-odd pages spilled from the accordion folder.
Some 10 months later, I would receive a letter from the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee. The committee, it said, would not recommend me for admission to the bar. Under Connecticut law, felons are presumed to lack the character and fitness required to practice law unless they can prove otherwise.
I’d known what to expect before the disappointing news from the bar examiners arrived. And still, the letter left me weeping.
State and federal licensing regulations often block people from entering certain professions before they ever touch an application. A felony conviction restricts access to professions as disparate as teaching, purchasing precious stones and metals, becoming a private investigator or operating a funeral home.
In May 2005, two months after I was released from prison, I walked into an adviser’s office at the University of Maryland. I told him I wanted to start college as soon as I could, that week if possible. He stared, as if I’d lost my mind, as if he were waiting for the punch line.
Before my 30th birthday, I’d earned a bachelor’s degree and an M.F.A. in poetry; published “A Question of Freedom,” a memoir about my time in prison; published a collection of poetry, “Shahid Reads His Own Palm”; and still knew my state number by heart.
By April 2013, I’d been accepted to law schools at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Michigan, Georgetown, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern and Boston College; told yes by one school for every year I’d been in prison.
I enrolled at Yale Law School just shy of my 33rd birthday.
The morning of law-school commencement in May 2016, my classmates and I gathered with thousands of students in the center of Yale’s campus. It was just over 19 years to the date of my sentencing.
When I was given J.’s case, a few months after my graduation, he had been incarcerated for a month. J. was already 18, and the charges he faced were serious enough that a long prison sentence was a possibility.
The way it was easy for a bad decision to transform any of the black boys around us from students into victims or criminal defendants. And because I’d been there — and because J. was my first client — keeping him out of prison and without a felony record had become my lodestar.
After months of conversation, the prosecutor’s stance toward J. softened. What began as a plea bargain for a sentence to be determined by the judge — a maximum of five years with the right to argue for a sentence of as little as six months — became an offer of time served plus three years of probation, in return for a guilty plea to a felony.
On the morning of May 5, 2017, the Connecticut bar examiners released the results of the bar exam. The sixth entry from the top was Reginald Dwayne Betts.
Prison taught me how to wait. I learned to break up a nine-year sentence into a million moments of waiting: waiting for rec, for chow, for count time, waiting for mail call, for visits, waiting to walk in the world without thinking constantly about danger, waiting for freedom. Waiting to hear back from the bar committee felt similar — once again, I was just waiting for mail. When the letter came, it began: “Dear Mr. Betts: The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee is pleased to advise you ... that you have been recommended for admission to the Connecticut Bar.”
Story by NY Times >
This Week on Twitter
More of This Time’s Up co-founder to represent “Media Men” list creator
Roberta A. Kaplan, a founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said on Tuesday that she will represent Moira Donegan, the creator of a widely circulated list of “media men” accused of sexual misconduct. Ms. Donegan is the only named defendant in a lawsuit that was filed against her by Stephen Elliott, one of the men named on the list.
Mr. Elliott, a writer based in New Orleans, filed the lawsuit last week in the Eastern District of New York, asking for “no less than $1.5 million,” an additional $500,000, and written apologies from Ms. Donegan and other anonymous women who contributed to the list, which was created on a Google spreadsheet last year and spread rapidly in the 12 hours that it was live online.
The document, commonly known as the “shitty media men” list, created a stir in the industry and preceded the firings of eminent journalists. The men listed were said to have engaged in some form of sexual misconduct; their names were added, often from anonymous sources, through a crowdsourcing effort.
Ms. Kaplan, a partner at Kaplan, Hecker and Fink, is most famous for representing Edith Windsor in United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violated the constitution, a major victory for L.G.B.T.Q. rights.
“I and other women who are involved in Time’s Up have felt pretty strongly for a while that it would be really important not only to represent women who have been harassed or assaulted, but also to defend women in efforts that have been undertaken to stop women from speaking,” Ms. Kaplan said.
“One can only surmise that the point of the lawsuit is to do something else, and again, my assumption is that the something else is to try to discourage other women from coming forward,” she said.
Story by NY Times >
Second Chances To help young women in prison, try dignity
Despite their names, state “departments of correction” in the United States aren’t known for correcting much. More than seven of every 10 prisoners, according to some studies, are arrested again less than four years after they are released.
Connecticut is trying to push back by focusing on one group that is especially likely to return to prison: young women, ages 18 to 25.
The goal is to promote rehabilitation by mimicking the European emphasis on personal dignity. For example, Pennsylvania is teaching corrections officers to think like therapists, while North Dakota has been giving prisoners keys so they can lock their own doors.
Neuroscience studies have shown that our brains keep developing well into our third decade, meaning people in their early 20s can still exhibit the impulsiveness and poor decision-making we associate with teenagers — ask any parent or insurance company about this — but are also especially receptive to help. With this in mind, the state of Washington has raised to 25 the age of considering an offender a juvenile for some crimes, while Chicago and San Francisco have created specialized young adult courts.
The newest program, called Women Overcoming Recidivism Through Hard Work, or Worth for short, began in June 2018 at the York Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in eastern Connecticut. There are currently 14 women who live with 10 older mentors, who are also serving time and are given wide latitude to develop the program themselves. The days are packed for the younger women with counseling, classes and addiction help, giving them a version of parenting they may have lacked.
Officers are trained to talk to the women about their traumas and vulnerabilities. There is an emphasis on planning for a crime-free life after release: Everyone has a job inside, and they apply for a new one every two weeks, meaning they get frequent opportunities to interview and write résumés.
“We don’t have to hide behind our attitudes here,” said Jazmine Ortiz, 20, who is in prison for a probation violation stemming from more serious crimes committed as a juvenile. “We have the opportunity to open up to the mentors. They know what to look for when we seem shy or isolated.” When there is a disagreement, the women sit in a circle and “work through it like a family would.”
What’s most striking about this program is hearing prison officials talk about a newfound sense of purpose. They no longer reduce success to statistics about arrests or disciplinary infractions. They tell stories of individuals gaining control of their lives and reconnecting with estranged family members.
And they use the word “dignity” a lot, much like their counterparts in Europe. They take pride in the idea that they are truly a department of correction.
Story by NY Times >
Watch This New HBO documentary chronicles the devastating effects of mandatory minimums
A searing look at the consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing, The Sentence is the first film from Rudy Valdez, who tells the story of his sister Cindy Shank. A mother of three, Shank received a 15-year mandatory sentence for conspiracy charges related to her deceased ex-boyfriend’s crimes. Stream The Sentence now on HBO.
Listen to This What it’s like to be your only Black friend
Savala Nolan Terpczynski is executive director of the Henderson Center for Social Justice at the UC Berkeley School of Law. She is African-American and she’s noticed that many of the people in her circle have just one Black friend -- her. That’s a problem.
Listen on KQED >
Job Opportunity Justice & Diversity Center hiring bi-lingual domestic violence lawyer
The Bi-lingual Domestic Violence Attorney will primarily represent survivors of domestic violence in cases before the San Francisco Unified Family Court. The position also provides brief advice and limited-scope representation on emergency matters.
Apply here >
Job Opportunity PANA San Diego hiring staff attorney
San Diego County’s refugee and muslim communities face ongoing and growing legal needs. PANA is hiring a full-time attorney to develop a legal program that will triage legal services for refugees and asylum seekers
Apply here >
The Youth Law Academy at Centro Legal de la Raza is currently recruiting attorney mentors for this academic year. YLA is a legal diversity pipeline program working to open the doors of the legal profession for the next generation of underrepresented attorneys
Mentorship application here >
Free for Students Law school admissions conference at Pepperdine
This free event will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the law school application process. Panels consisting of law students and lawyers will share their pathways to law school and the legal profession and answer questions. Hosted by For People of Color, Inc.
October 20. RSVP here >