The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) held its fifth annual UDC Law Gala on Nov. 17 at the University of the District of Columbia Student Center. The event, designed to support student scholarships and fellowships, also marked the culmination of a year-long celebration of UDC Law’s fiftieth anniversary.
More than 150 people gathered for the night’s events, centered on honoring the history and legacy of the law school. Regina Shaw ’97 and Freddie Mac received the 2022 Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champions for Justice Awards, and Karen Newton Cole ’87, Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas ’96, Saleema Snow ’97 and LaRuby May ’06 were inducted into the inaugural class of the UDC Law Alumni Hall of Fame.
The program featured remarks from Acting Dean Twinette Johnson, DC School of Law Foundation (DCSLF) Chair Jon Bouker, and 4LE Nija Bastfield. Donald Calloway (MSNBC, Pine Street Strategies) hosted the evening, and guests enjoyed musical performances from Yolanda F. Johnson, the UDC Chorale and Shawn Allen’s Choice Band.
Dean Johnson spoke to the history and future of the law school, acknowledging the impact of losing Dr. Edgar S. Cahn in January. Cahn was the co-founder – with his wife Jean Camper Cahn – of UDC Law’s predecessor school in 1972. Johnson noted members of the Cahn family were in attendance and then spoke to the strength of the Cahns’ impact, “For the first time in fifty years, we will have a class who have not had the opportunity to be imparted with his wisdom firsthand. Edgar and Jean taught us all, so it is the responsibility of all of us to share what we’ve learned.”
She then discussed the future of UDC Law. “This year, after enduring the pandemic, we have reopened our doors to 100% in person learning. We celebrated our 67 graduates as they entered the legal profession and welcomed one of our largest incoming classes to date,” she said, adding, “As one of only six Historically Black law schools in the country, we are essential participants in the effort to make this a more just and equitable society.”
Bouker also recognized the Cahn legacy and followed with recognition of the passing of B. Michael Rauh, whom Bouker described a staunch supporter of UDC Law. Rauh was a long-time member of the DCSLF Foundation Board. Bouker ended by saying, “We honor Mike and Edgar’s memory by remaining steadfastly committed to the mission of this great institution.”
In a surprise presentation, Bastfield presented University of the District of Columbia President Ronald Mason, Jr., with a suit jacket from SuitShop. In August, SuitShop provided each member of the incoming class a suit jacket to kickstart their legal career.
Dean Johnson returned to the spotlight after dinner to induct the inaugural class into the UDC Law Alumni Hall of Fame. To celebrate 50 Years, UDC Law established a Hall of Fame to honor alumni (living or deceased) whose exemplary careers, extraordinary service or outstanding contributions to UDC Law have significantly impacted our community and beyond. Inductees were nominated by members of the UDC Law community, and a selection committee carefully reviewed and chose Newton Cole, Hiligh-Thomas, Snow and May as the first four members of this new tradition. A virtual Hall of Fame has been established and will live permanently on the UDC Law website.
A reverse auction followed the Hall of Fame induction, adding to the over $108,000 raised for the night.
For the third year, the Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champions of Justice Awards were presented at the Gala. Barry Parsons accepted the award on behalf of Freddie Mac; Parsons is Associate General Counsel at Freddie Mac. Shaw was chosen for the award for her commitment to the public interest.
The Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champions of Justice Awards are presented to individuals who are using their position and platform to promote social justice and equality throughout the United States and abroad. “Named after one of the most prolific and influential social justice advocates of our time,” Calloway said as he invited the awardees to accept their awards, “the recipients of this award exemplify the same values embodied by Professor Ogletree and UDC Law’s commitment to public service.”
The UDC Law Gala celebrates leaders advancing the fight for justice and helps to provide students with an award-winning, social justice-focused legal education without the burden of unmanageable student debt.
UDC Law is committed to educating groups that are traditionally underrepresented at the Bar. Heralded as one of the best and most affordable schools for Black students, UDC Law is home to the largest female and one of the most diverse (law) student populations in the nation.
UDC Law’s clinical programs have provided life-saving legal services to the most vulnerable members of the broader DC community for the last 50 years. In the face of unprecedented challenges, in academic year 2021-22, UDC Law students consistently rose to meet the demands of a rigorous curriculum, adapted to a different style of life and learning and completed over 35,000 hours of clinical work and more than 4,400 hours of service to the D.C. community. UDC Law is steadfastly committed to community and dedicated to practicing law, promoting justice and changing lives.
The District of Columbia School of Law Foundation cordially invites you to the fifth annual
UDC Law Gala Thursday, November 17, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. UDC Student Center Ballroom 4200 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
Get your tickets now and join us as we honor Regina H. Shaw, ’97, and Freddie Mac with the Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champions of Justice Award.
The UDC Law Gala is a culminating event that celebrates leaders advancing the fight for justice and helps us to provide UDC Law students with an award-winning, social justice-focused legal education without the burden of unmanageable student debt.
UDC Law is committed to educating groups that are traditionally underrepresented at the Bar. Heralded as one of the best and most affordable schools for Black students, UDC Law is home to the largest female and one of the most diverse law student populations in the nation.
On Tuesday, Nov. 9, the District of Columbia School of Law Foundation hosted the Fourth Annual UDC Law Gala at the University of the District of Columbia Student Center Ballroom, raising $135,425 toward supporting students through tuition scholarships, fellowships and bar study programs. The funds raised at the gala came from sponsorships, ticket sales and a reverse auction held during the event. Overall, the amount raised at the gala contributes to a 2021 total of $ 718,706. Guests tuned in virtually from around the country, including Georgia, California, New York and Florida.
The Gala traditionally honors individuals who use their position and platform to promote social justice and equality throughout the United States and abroad with the Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champion of Justice Award. The recipients of the award exemplify the same values embodied by Professor Ogletree and UDC Law’s commitment to public service.
Renee Montgomery, Co-Owner and Vice President of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, received this year’s Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champion of Justice Award. At the gala, Montgomery’s sister Nicole Young accepted the award on her behalf. Montgomery and the Atlanta Dream have consistently used their platform to fight for real justice and equity for all, including efforts to negotiate for fair pay, leadership in the Black Lives Matters Movement and Say Her Name Movement and supporting voters in Georgia’s recent senatorial elections. Montgomery is the first WNBA alumni to co-own a WNBA team.
An estimated 200 guests participated in the evening’s program, with 100 guests participating in person and all others participating virtually. Aimed at expanding the geographic reach of the event and creating a parallel experience for in-person and virtual attendees alike, the Foundation enlisted District Graze to deliver custom charcuterie boxes to the homes of virtual participants located in the D.C. Metro area moments before the opening remarks.
Highlights of the evening’s program – which was stewarded by emcee Don Calloway, former member of the Missouri House of Representatives and CEO of Pine Street Strategies – included the moving vocal performance by the UDC Chorale led by Professor Johnny Butler and the stirring medley of popular and original works by celebrated harpist Brandee Younger.
Anchoring the purpose of the event, UDC Law students Jamal Bailey, Pearl Mansu and Yaman Shalabi shared with the crowd the many ways funds raised through DCSLF efforts have helped them pursue their legal education. Shalabi, a third year evening student, credited the school for inspiring her to go into public service after graduation. “UDC Law’s power lies within its ability to push you far past the edge of your limits only to discover you are capable of more. It ignites in its students a passion to live with purpose and to live for others.”
Bailey and Mansu, both slated to graduate in 2022, have already accepted positions at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Reid Smith LLP, respectively.
The DCSLF gives tens of thousands of dollars each year to support UDC Law students on their journey to becoming the country’s next generation of justice advocates. DCSLF Board Chair and Arent Fox Partner Jon Bouker emphasized the Foundation’s commitment to extend its reach to support more students in the future. “We cannot stop here. We will not stop here. We must ensure that our graduates are placed in positions where they can impact change. For the students, I want you to know that we believe in you and we are invested in your success because we know that the key to a future of a more just and equitable society is placed firmly within your capable hands.”
The District of Columbia School of Law Foundation cordially invites you to the fourth annual
UDC Law Gala Tuesday, November 9, 2021, at 6:30 p.m.
This will be a hybrid event taking place simultaneously in-person at the UDC Student Center Ballroom and virtually.
Get your tickets now and join us as we honor Renee Montgomery and the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Atlanta Dream withthe Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Champions of Justice Award.
Renee Montgomery is the first WNBA alumni to co-own a WNBA team – the Atlanta Dream. Montgomery and the Atlanta Dream have consistently used their platform to fight for real justice and equity for all, including efforts to negotiate for fair pay, leadership in the Black Lives Matters Movement and Say Her Name Movement, and supporting voters in Georgia’s recent senatorial elections.
A leading voice of the harp today, performer, composer, educator and concert curator Brandee Younger defies genres and labels. Recently awarded Rising Star Harpist in Downbeat Magazine’s 2020 Critics Poll, she has performed and recorded with artists including Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Jack Dejohnette, Charlie Haden, Common, John Legend, The Roots, Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill. In 2020, she released her fifth album Force Majeure and her original composition “Hortense” was featured in the Netflix Concert-Documentary, Beyoncé: Homecoming.
The event supports UDC Law’s mission to train the next generation of public service leaders.
Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in this joyful event supporting the District’s only public law school, one of only six accredited law schools at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). We look forward to celebrating with you virtually or in person!
Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl A. Racine delivered the 2021 Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture in March, in which he focused on the office’s efforts in affordable housing, worker rights, juvenile justice and combating hate. Following his remarks, Racine took questions from the virtual audience of more than 100 attendees.
Dean Renée Hutchins introduced the Attorney General, who began his talk with heartfelt praise for the University of the District of Columbia and reminded the audience that his mother, who died in late 2020, taught at UDC for fifty years. Marie-Marcelle Buteau Racine began her teaching career at Federal City College, a predecessor school to UDC, and spent those decades teaching foreign language and serving as dean and department chair.
Racine then emphasized the importance of UDC and particularly the David A. Clarke School of Law in addressing the issues he discussed. He described the job of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the positive impact UDC Law students have in helping the office conduct its work. Racine’s talk centered on the public interest work being done by the Office of the Attorney General both locally and nationally.
He first described how the office focuses on the rights of tenants and fights for affordable housing. Washington has experienced a surge in new residents, Racine said, “but also the most intense most intense displacement of District residents, overwhelmingly Black, brown and lower income people” as a result of policies that favor development. Thus, “standing up for tenants is one area of the public interest that the Office of the Attorney General has pursued.”
Next, Racine turned to worker rights as another priority of the office. “We are in a terrible pandemic of wage theft and worker misclassification in the District,” he said. Construction is ubiquitous in D.C., which Racine argued is a clear sign there is wage theft occurring. He stressed that such practices more often affect immigrants and poor “hardworking people who are vulnerable and often don’t complain.”
Locally, juvenile justice has also been a key initiative in the office with an emphasis on “prosecuting kids without bringing them into the criminal justice system.” Racine said efforts to increase diversion and restorative justice have been successful in reducing recidivism in youth.
Racine closed his speech with some of the national issues in which his office has been instrumental, including ensuring people who need access to programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continue to receive those benefits and combating the increase in hate over the past several years. Racine said his office teamed up with 22 other attorney general offices to stop the previous administration from creating additional obstacles for people who receive benefits like SNAP. He moved next to the ways in which the office is working to eliminate the “outrageous,” “exponential” growth in hate. He said it’s important to call hate out and work to stop it with policies that recognize its complexity. “A lot of the hate we’re seeing has intersectionality to it,” he said, adding that much of it falls on women and using the Atlanta spa shooting in March as an example. “It’s so important we have a better tone at the top of the United States government,” Racine said, “we cannot foster, condone, encourage or defend hate groups.”
Racine thanked the virtual crowd before taking questions from the audience, which Dean Hutchins moderated. Topics included domestic terrorism and political rhetoric, the impact of systemic issues on the work of the office, the future of D.C. statehood, District responses to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the benefits of hiring from diverse law schools, ways in which D.C. residents and law schools can help with the programs at the Office of the Attorney General, plans for additional LGBTQ+ protections, a post-COVID safe return to work and progressive efforts in law enforcement. There was also a bit of speculation on Racine’s future with a question about whether he would run for office, to which Dean Hutchins counteroffered – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that he would always be welcome to teach at UDC Law. The Attorney General answered masterfully, leaving all doors open but not tipping his hand.
On Thursday, Oct. 24, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka delivered the 27th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture, linking the history and future of labor rights and reminding the audience of Rauh’s role in paving the way for union democracy. Trumka’s long-time mentor and friend Joseph “Chip” Yablonski introduced Trumka to the audience, describing the ties between Trumka, Rauh and Yablonski’s father, labor rights activist Joseph “Jock” Yablonski. UDC Law Dean Renée McDonald Hutchins provided opening and closing remarks.
Hutchins thanked the large crowd in the Moot Courtroom before providing a brief overview of the Rauh Lecture’s impact on the UDC Law community. In the audience were UDC Law faculty and students, University of the District of Columbia (UDC) Chief Academic Officer Lawrence Potter, deans and faculty from across UDC, members of the DC School of Law Foundation Board, the leadership of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and guests from the community. Hutchins acknowledged the guests before praising the students, calling them “my guiding star in terms of my leadership.” She then asked for a moment to recognize the passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings and a beloved member of the UDC Law community, Professor Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke.
Remembering Joe Rauh
In his introduction, Yablonski tied Trumka to his father and to Rauh, calling the latter “the greatest mentor of young lawyers – at least young liberal lawyers – in Washington in my lifetime.” Rauh represented Yablonski’s father when he challenged W.A. “Tony” Boyle for the presidency of United Mine Workers (UMWA) in 1969. Despite losing the election, the elder Yablonski and Joe Rauh fought for union democracy until Jock, his wife and his daughter were murdered on New Year’s Eve in 1969. Yablonski praised Rauh’s impact on the investigation and acknowledged his role in helping the family weather the tragedy. Rauh was instrumental in urging the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate the murders, for which Boyle ultimately served time several years later. “That night [of the murders] is sort of indelible to me in terms of Joe’s humanity and his strategic vision,” Yablonski told the crowd.
Rauh was also influential in reforms that led UMWA to adopt, according to Yablonski, “the most democratic union constitution in the United States, probably the world.” It was around then, as well, that Yablonski and Trumka’s paths crossed. Yablonski hired Trumka – who had been studying in the mines by the light of his helmet lamp through Penn State and Villanova Law – to what he called “probably the most ambitious and bright group of lawyers ever assembled for a labor union.”
Making the ultimate sacrifice for union members
After working for UMWA for a time, Trumka chose to fight the union dysfunction he had observed, first returning to the mines to reach the required number of service years to run for international union office. “You can have all kinds of measures about what a union leader ought to be,” Yablonski remarked, “but somebody that gives up writing briefs and arguing motions in an air-conditioned environment to go to work underground is somebody that is making the ultimate sacrifice for his union members.”
Yablonski concluded his introduction with a summary of Trumka’s leadership before acknowledging that “Joe Rauh would be very, very pleased at our speaker tonight,” calling him “the heir of Joe Rauh’s legacy.”
Creating value out of a hole in the ground
Trumka’s message centered on the importance of unions for today’s worker, connecting the history of union democracy to current issues of labor and democracy. Forming the basis of his career philosophy, Trumka noted that, “if you want to help workers, you first need to know and help people.” Trumka got to know those people and workers by going into the mines, and he took the lessons he learned with him throughout his career. “The education I got in the mines far exceeds anything I got at Penn State or Villanova,” Trumka said. “It’s a job that teaches you the nature of hard work, creating value out of a hole in the ground.”
While Trumka was working and studying in Pennsylvania, the United States faced a number of key moments in its history, chief among them the fight for civil rights. As the public sector grew, Trumka explained, so did the demand for better working conditions. “People were striking to be recognized and have the dignity of a human being,” he explained, as he recounted the events of the 1969 Black Lung Strike in West Virginia and the Memphis Sanitation Strike where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Returning to his own experience, Trumka detailed the dysfunction he observed in the unions. Even as the governor of West Virginia was signing the first piece of legislation to recognize black lung as an occupational hazard, mine workers were fighting for basic rights in the Boyle-led UMWA. Trumka described the difficulty workers faced in understanding their rights; it was not possible for workers to receive copies of union contracts or constitutions, for instance. “If you tried to file a grievance,” Trumka said, “they’d tell you that, ‘we’ll tell you when you have a grievance.’”
Your fight is my fight and my fight is your fight
Trumka then highlighted Rauh and Jock Yablonski’s attempts at battling labor union corruption in the late 1960s. Jock, Trumka noted, “was a symbol of everything we’d been fighting for – a union that has your back, true solidarity – where your fight is my fight and my fight is your fight. And thanks to this evening’s namesake, that all became clear again to us.”
After Jock’s death, Rauh continued to fight for union democracy and did so with more support from mineworkers, many of whom rallied behind the late Yablonski’s cause. About Rauh, Trumka added, “he was your guy. When Joe Rauh was your lawyer, he was your lawyer.” Trumka cited Yablonski and Rauh’s efforts as the catalyst for union momentum in the 1970s and its effect on his own career. Trumka became President of United Mine Workers in 1982, and he fondly recalled being sworn in by his father – “who had given his life to his union” and later died of black lung, “like every man in my family in that generation.”
Connecting those earlier efforts for union democracy to similar issues workers face today, Trumka said that, just as members nearly fifty years ago “stopped looking at their shoes,” today’s workers are also “looking our employers squarely in the eye and delivering a clear message: ‘Enough. Enough.’” He credited Jock Yablonski and Joseph Rauh for making that possible both then and now.
It is the “systems and institutions we’re supposed to rely on” that stand in the way of progress for workers today, he continued. Trumka argued those systems are rigged in favor of corporations and politicians and that democracy itself is in jeopardy. He cited a Harvard Law study that found only 30 percent of Millennials believe it is essential to live in a democracy and 25 percent even said democracy is a bad thing. Trumka contended this is a result of an economy and political system that does not work for them; “young people and workers in general are becoming more disillusioned as they bear the brunt of a broken economy.” Citing flat wages, subpar healthcare and disappearing pensions, Trumka said the threats to union democracy and democracy in general are “startling and heartbreaking” given the efforts of previous generations.
Times are tough, but so are working people
Despite sounding a mild alarm, Trumka offered hope to the audience, saying he has “never been more optimistic” in light of current collective actions – striking teachers in Chicago and auto workers in Michigan, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo – “where people are saying, ‘the only way we’re going to get this done is if we stand together, if we lock arms with the people standing next to us.” He stressed the impact of “ordinary people” effecting “extraordinary” change.
Reminding us that the role of unions is to provide better conditions for working people, Trumka urged the audience to turn to one another and use the momentum of current social action to keep fighting for “a voice and democracy on the job.” He added, “times are tough, but so are working people. We never give up without a fight.”
He closed his talk with advice for the law students in the room. Soon, he told them, “they will send you off into a complicated world with an extraordinary opportunity and responsibility to make a difference.” Then he asked them to consider how they would meet that challenge, urging them to work to advance fairness and freedom, to fight inequality. “Fifty years after Jock died and Joe helped all of us move on,” Trumka said in closing, “you can help strengthen democracy for generations to come. You can. And I truly hope that you will be lawyers for democracy and make Joe Rauh proud of you because he fought every day for that – and for the little guy.”
Trumka then took questions from the audience that built on some of the topics he had discussed and highlighted additional labor concerns like the growing roles of artificial intelligence and automation, the impact of social media on labor organizing and the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
On Tuesday, Nov. 27, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Vanita Gupta delivered the twenty-sixth annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture to a rapt audience at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law).
The event reunited Gupta, who served as head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during one of the most consequential periods for the division, with her former colleague Jonathan Smith, ’84, who served as Chief of the Special Litigation Section under Gupta’s leadership.
The interview-style conversation showcased Gupta’s profound knowledge and experience as a leading-edge civil rights litigator over the course of the wide-ranging discussion on the present landscape for civil and human rights in America. Throughout the evening, Gupta offered penetrating insight into rapidly-changing areas of law ranging from asylum law and constitutional structures to state-level bail reform and voting rights initiatives. Drawing on her experience as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta weighed in on numerous, complex issues currently undergoing litigation and offered a hard-hitting critique of the Trump administration’s efforts to straitjacket the Department of Justice’s ability to investigate and prosecute civil rights violations and compromise the agency’s independence.
The Rauh Lecture: A Lasting Legacy
Chair Emeritus of the D.C. School of Law Foundation B. Michael Rauh opened the event with brief remarks on the history of the Foundation and the legacy of his late father Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., the liberal lion, civil liberties attorney, and founding member of the law school’s Board of Governors in whose honor the Rauh Lecture was established in 1993.
Rauh commended the selection of Gupta as this year’s Rauh Lecturer saying she “would lead the country in the good fight against” the current administration’s efforts to roll back civil and human rights protections, and he exhorted the many practicing lawyers and up-and-coming attorneys in the audience to stand ready to aggressively litigate for the protection of our democracy at her side.
“The Next Move”
UDC Law Acting Dean and Professor of Law John Brittain then took to the stage to introduce Gupta and Smith to the audience. Dean Brittain – who is himself a prominent civil rights litigator who has achieved many landmark victories for school desegregation during his decades-long career – celebrated Gupta’s remarkable perseverance and skillful leadership of the Civil Rights Division to secure groundbreaking victories for fair housing, voting rights, and police accountability in the federal courts despite “unremitting opposition” from a partisan Congress.
Dean Brittain singled out as a high watermark of her tenure the division’s successful investigation and prosecution of police departments in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, and Chicago. The groundbreaking investigations produced consent decrees with historic limits on racially-motivated policing and civil rights abuses that remain in force to this day. He went on to praise Gupta for choosing to join The Leadership Conference after leaving the Justice Department, saying that “Instead of ‘cashing out’ on her long record of public service after leaving the Justice Department, she doubled down” by joining the historic organization, which has coordinated the lobbying efforts on behalf of every major civil rights law since its founding in 1950.
Noting that Gupta and Smith, as Chief of the Special Litigation Section, shared leadership on the Justice Department’s civil investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department following the death of Michael Brown, Dean Brittain highlighted that the living room-style conversation offered listeners a rare opportunity to see this historic Justice Department “team in action.” “It’s like we’re together in a conference room in the Department of Justice,” said Dean Brittain, “and we’re planning the next move.”
“Gamechanger:” voting rights and ballot access
Jonathan Smith, who worked under Gupta’s leadership of the Civil Rights Division, opened the conversation-style portion of the lecture with high praise for Gupta’s “extraordinary career.” Smith recounted Gupta’s multiple and precedent-setting court victories, including her landmark litigation challenging wrongful convictions in Texas as an entry-level attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and extending through her criminal justice reform work and litigation at the ACLU challenging the detention of immigrant families in for-profit facilities.
For her part, Gupta praised the “extraordinary legacy of public service” that the Rauh family represents and its continued support of UDC Law, saying “the civil rights community is deeply indebted to all of you.”
With the stage set, the audience listened in rapt attention as Smith kicked off the discussion with a question about the 2018 midterm elections, asking Gupta what the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives means for the civil rights agenda. Gupta responded that the election was, first and foremost, a “huge win for democracy” as a practical matter, because it restored a much-needed check in Congress after two years of one-party rule.
Gupta also emphasized the importance for civil and human rights in America of the election of several “first-ever” officials to Congress, including the first Muslim and first Native American women elected to Congress, and the historic number of women representatives in the House. She hailed the result as “a massive win for civil and human rights” with far-reaching implications.
Gupta also stressed the wave of progressive state-level ballot initiatives approved by voters. Gupta singled out the Florida initiative restoring voting rights to 1.4 million people convicted of a felony as a “gamechanger,” noting that it is “the single largest expansion of the franchise since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in the ‘60s.”
In the wake of Charlottesville and constant attacks on immigrant families, Gupta described the November election results as a reaffirmation that “Americans will show up at the polls for the kind of country they want and the kind of country they deserve.”
“Despair is the luxury of the privileged”
The conversation shifted to the state of federal civil rights enforcement in the country, as Smith asked Gupta whether the new Congress can reverse the erosion of agency civil rights enforcement authority at not only the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division but also at civil rights sections across the government, including the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Gupta responded with a laundry list of potential targets for congressional oversight in what she referred to as the administration’s “systematic effort” to dismantle civil rights enforcement authority encompassing “underenforcement at the Department of Education, the systematic withdrawal of guidances, the slowdown and lack of enforcement of laws that Congress enacted and gave to these federal agencies the mandate to enforce.” Expressing hope for improved oversight in the new Congress, Gupta stressed the important role the House can play in bringing the public’s attention to the “deeply important and historic role that the federal government has played in ensuring the protection of vulnerable and marginalized communities through its civil rights enforcement across agencies.”
Fair and independent courts are “fundamental” to democracy
Bringing the conversation around to the topic of the Senate’s role in confirming judicial nominees to the federal bench, and the Republican party’s continued control of the chamber, Smith asked Gupta what lessons she learned from The Leadership Conference’s effort to block the confirmation of now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other judicial nominees based on their records of opposition to civil rights and anti-discrimination measures.
Speaking to the history of The Leadership Conference, which she now leads, Gupta emphasized the importance of coalitional organizing to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary, which has for decades served as “a backstop against some of the most egregious excesses of the other two branches of government.”
In what she termed the “shocking” and aggressive reshaping of the federal courts in the past two years with the confirmation of “extremist nominees the likes of whom the Senate has never seen before,” Gupta signaled the dangerous and long-lasting consequences posed by these lifetime appointments, saying “my children, and probably their children, are now going to reap the seeds of what has been sown the last two years and unfortunately what is likely to continue the next two years.”
Gupta reflected that “the fight for fair courts has not been taken seriously enough” because “we often think about our issues in silos.” She emphasized how The Leadership Conference centers the importance of the foundational structures of democracy because “the fight to preserve the structures of our democracy – like the census, like the courts, like voting rights – are so crucial because everything else we care about, the courts directly have a say-so on.” The implications for civil rights litigators are dire, she added, with many civil rights litigators likely to avoid resorting to the Supreme Court to pursue alternative strategies for reform such as legislative advocacy and passage of state-level ballot initiatives.
“You can’t be a civil rights lawyer and have despair”
Predicting that the next two years will witness the Trump administration successfully filling all vacancies in the federal courts, Smith questioned “what, other than despair, can we do to change the dynamic and hold the Senate accountable.”
“You can’t be a civil rights lawyer and have despair,” Gupta said without missing a beat, adding that civil rights lawyers are almost by definition attorneys who battle against despair. “Hopelessness is an excuse for the privileged, so we don’t have the privilege of being hopeless. We must fight back.”
Gupta described the sweeping losses for civil and human rights witnessed in the past two years, saying “there is a still a deep and profound racism in this country, that has emboldened racism in the corridors of power,” but she rejected hopelessness and complacency outright. She identified the growing power of local and community-based groups organizing for progressive causes as reason for hope.
Sessions’ last act “another slap in the face of the Civil Rights Division”
Smith turned next to the “last act” of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue a memorandum that straightjackets the Civil Rights Division’s historic work on police reform by restricting the division’s ability to pursue consent decrees through investigation and prosecution of patterns and practices of police misconduct.
Calling the move “another slap in the face of the Civil Rights Division,” Gupta noted that the memorandum targets the very work that was the major focus of her tenure at the Justice Department. She argued forcefully that the memorandum flies in the face of the statutory mandate given to the agency by Congress in 1994. The memorandum restricts approval of such consent agreements to political appointees, requires evidence of violations beyond unconstitutional behavior, and imposes an arbitrary “sunset” date on such agreements in place of court oversight and proof that the police department or law enforcement agency has improved the very practices governed by the agreement.
Gupta criticized the policy as “demoralizing” to the Justice Department’s career attorneys and “a real blow to civil rights enforcement around the country.” Nevertheless, Gupta found reason for hope, citing that the existing consent decrees previously filed with Article III judges remain in force and cannot be unilaterally revoked. She also lifted up the “extraordinary work” of state attorneys general, local mayors, and police department officials who have stepped into the gap to locally negotiate the measures.
“Despite the gutting of the Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement, the good news is there still is a lot of momentum on criminal justice reform, and we need to build on the powerful advocacy locally and at the state level to continue forward,” recommended Gupta.
Ballot access, the census
With a nod to her earlier remarks on the importance of shoring up fundamental structures that preserve American democracy like the federal courts, Gupta turned next to the ongoing battle over ballot access and the census.
Gupta surveys the six ongoing court battles over the Trump administration’s proposed “citizenship question” in the coming census that threatens to systematically undercount communities of color as a result of the chilling effect the change would have on mixed-status families. Gupta described the efforts of The Leadership Conference to unwind the move at the policy level and to increase funding of local efforts to organize for an accurate census count. She exhorted the audience to connect up with The Leadership Conference to get plugged in to local efforts.
Smith’s next question asked Gupta what can be expected form state legislatures around the country with regard to gerrymandering and voter suppression. Citing several state-level ballot initiatives during the midterm election that took the politics out of redistricting with the establishment of independent commissions, Gupta called for similar efforts in other states. She went on to describe the “phenomenal work” of groups such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and The Leadership Conference’s All Voting is Local campaign, which are fighting voter suppression at the local level around the country and pushing for same-day registration and early voting initiatives, but she warned that full ballot access will only be secured with the restoration of the Voting Rights Act and other reforms, like automatic voter registration, same-day registration, and early voting.
With the event drawing to a close, Dean Brittain returned to the podium to preside over a lively question and answer session with the audience covering critical issues such as the nationwide spike in hate crimes, local opportunities in the District to combat voter suppression and protect the census, and the potential for further action to limit or remove judges confirmed to the federal bench.
Dean Brittain concluded the powerful dialogue and led the audience in a round of applause before presenting Gupta with the UDC Law Dean’s Cup in appreciation for her contribution to the law school. He praised Gupta’s “powerful remarks” and seemingly “encyclopedic knowledge” she showed on the issues, calling her “an inspiration.”
Dean Brittain also lauded the “steadfast support of the law school and its critical mission” by Smith, who was UDC Law’s Associate Dean for Clinical Programs before transitioning to become the Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. A catered reception followed, courtesy of the D.C. School of Law Foundation, offering guests an opportunity to speak with Gupta and other members of the UDC Law community.
About Vanita Gupta
Vanita Gupta is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition. An experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work, prior to joining The Leadership Conference, Gupta served from 2014 to 2017 as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama. As the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.
Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the ACLU. She began her career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Gupta earned her J.D. from the New York University School of Law, where she has also taught a civil rights litigation clinic.
About the Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture
The annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture series serves as a dedicated forum at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) in which leading members of the bench or bar speak directly to the people of the District and the law school community on issues of vital importance to the practice of law in the public interest.
Established in 1993 in honor of the late civil liberties attorney and founding member of the law school Board of Governors Joe Rauh, some of the nation’s most respected civil rights and public interest figures, including then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, and many others, have delivered the Rauh Lecture. The Rauh Lecture, which is open to the public and free of charge, includes a catered reception at the conclusion of the event courtesy of the D.C. School of Law Foundation.
About the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law
The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) has the largest clinical requirement of any U.S. law school, providing more than 100,000 hours of legal services to thousands of D.C. residents each year through our nine legal clinics and robust experiential programs. UDC Law has garnered a No. 2 ranking by the National Law Journal (2018) for government and public interest job placement and No. 8 for Best Clinical Training Program by U.S. News & World Report (2019). For more information, please visit www.law.udc.edu.
Watch the lecture in its entirety on the UDC-TV YouTube channel here.
Almost 400 guests attended the 2018 Annual Gala of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) on Wednesday, June 6th, held in the beautiful Independence Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel. The event raised over $500,000 to support UDC Law’s Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program and Scholarship Funds. The UDC Law community of alumni, supporters, faculty and students turned out in force to honor outgoing Dean Katherine “Shelley” Broderick and Tony West, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Uber Technologies, Inc., for their outstanding commitment and service to the public interest, diversity and justice.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, University of the District of Columbia (UDC) President Ronald Mason, Jr. , Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Senior Advisor to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser Beverly L. Perry, Chair of the UDC Board of Trustees and Partner at Ballard Spahr LLP Christopher Bell, President of the Legal Services Corporation James Sandman, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, family of the late D.C. Councilmember and namesake of UDC Law David A. Clarke, Carole Clarke and son Jeffrey Clarke, and Jon Bouker, Board Chair of the D.C. School of Law Foundation and Partner at Arent Fox LLP, were among those in attendance to celebrate the District of Columbia’s only public law school and the extraordinary community of faculty, staff, students and alumni committed to the public interest. The event showcased the work of students and faculty in UDC Law’s Housing and Consumer Law Clinic and Community Development Law Clinic, part of UDC Law’s nationally-recognized clinical program, and the outsized impact that D.C.’s only public law school has on the community.
The Little Law School That Can
UDC President Ronald Mason, Jr. gave opening remarks praising Dean Shelley Broderick’s two decades of leadership and reflecting on the powerful impact UDC Law has had on the University community and to the people of the District. “We are all hard at work transforming UDC into an advanced system of higher learning where our students aspire, accomplish, and take on the world.”
Jon Bouker, D.C. School of Law Foundation Chair, then took the stage to welcome the crowd and describe the critical role of the Foundation in raising private funds to support UDC Law’s students and programs, saying “Your support makes it possible for students who could not otherwise afford to attend law school to get a law degree,” while “giving back to the community, by providing 400 hours over the summer to government agencies, judicial chambers, and non-profits serving poor and vulnerable people.” He then introduced a five-minute video depicting UDC Law‘s mission and featuring members of the law school community.
Dean Shelley Broderick stepped up to the podium and remarked that, no matter how many times she views the video, “I can’t get through it without weeping. I so hope that you see what I see—a special law school that enables our students to practice law, promote justice and change the lives of D.C. residents.” She brought the audience to its feet with a rousing speech on the journey of the “Little Law School that Can” over nearly five decades, as it has held fast to its core mission to graduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented at the bar and to provide legal services to low-income District residents through its clinical programs.
Public School, Public Interest
The dinner service transitioned into a video presentation featuring UDC Law students and faculty in the School’s Community Development Law and Housing and Consumer Law Clinics. The presentation highlighted the important work of UDC Law’s clinics on the fiftieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which was the subject of the School’s two-day symposium “FHA@50: Renewing Our Commitment to Housing Equity.”
Several of the UDC Law students featured in the video then took the stage. Jason Diggs (’18) spoke about his work in the Community Development Law Clinic providing transactional legal services to community organizations and small businesses to increase community control and ownership of District resources. “I was raised by a single mother with three pretty rambunctious boys in a public housing project in southeast Virginia. I saw her win, I saw her lose, but I never saw her quit,” said Mr. Diggs. “In that clinic, I met people just like my mom, people with amazing stories, but difficult challenges. But now I had the privilege to offer them support—and hope—for social justice.” Mr. Diggs, who took a well-deserved break for the evening from his preparation for the bar exam, plans to practice housing and community development law. During the summer of his first year, Mr. Diggs was awarded a Rauh Summer Fellowship to serve with the Virginia Legal Aid Society where he represented low-income clients in civil matters including eviction defense. He went on to receive a Freddie Mac Fellowship in the summer of his second year, working as a judicial law clerk in HUD’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. His last semester, Mr. Diggs was an extern at Manna, a non-profit, affordable housing developer in D.C., working alongside Director of Project Development Rozanne Look (’82).
LaNise Salley (’19), who spent last semester as a student attorney with the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic, will continue on as a Rauh Summer Fellow at the clinic focusing on securing critical repairs for low-income D.C. renters. Ms. Salley emphasized the importance of UDC Law’s scholarship programs, saying “On behalf of myself and the family I’ve created here at UDC Law, thank you.” Last summer, Ms. Salley was selected as an Equal Justice America Summer Fellow and provided legal services to low-income D.C. residents in debt collection matters at Tzedek DC, an independent public interest center housed at UDC Law. Ms. Salley’s success as a summer fellow led Tzedek DC to retain her as an intern during the fall semester and feature her in a documentary highlighting the organization’s work.
Theo Wilhite (’19), a “double firebird” who served as student representative on the UDC Board of Trustees as an undergraduate, spoke powerfully about how he overcame a host of challenges to become a UDC Law student, saying “I got my life back and today I am not a victim. I am a victor, and I hope to take my lived experiences to continue to advocate for persons who find themselves in similar situations.” Mr. Wilhite spent his semester as a student attorney in the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic, where he represented low-income District residents and advanced the clinic mission to preserve and expand quality affordable housing. Mr. Wilhite spent last summer as a Rauh Summer Fellow working in the office of D.C. Councilmember Robert White and the D.C. Office of Planning, assisting in community development matters. He is currently a District Leadership Program fellow, working at the D.C. Office of Planning exploring the intersection of equity and land use. Mr. Wilhite is the incoming President of the Student Bar Association for the 2018-19 academic year.
Keilah Roberts (’19) decided to come to law school after her family faced eviction from her childhood home when she was a teenager, having watched her family of seven struggle in the civil court system without legal representation. “Fortunately, this case was handled by none other than the first lawyer I knew, my mother. Our lawyer, my mother, doesn’t have a law degree, a college degree or even high school diploma. But nonetheless she is still the fiercest advocate I know. Armed with my mother’s courage to defend others, I applied to law school.” This past semester, Ms. Roberts was a student attorney with the Community Development Law Clinic, where she provided transactional legal services to D.C.-based housing cooperatives and other community organizations. Ms. Roberts was awarded a Rauh Summer Fellowship in the summer of her first year, interning with the Honorable Zuberi B. Williams of the Sixth District Court of Maryland. This summer, Ms. Roberts will join the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau as a student attorney.
Law As Justice
Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General and a Partner at Covington & Burling LLP, then took the stage for the award presentation honoring his former colleague, Tony West, who was a senior official in the U.S. Department of Justice in the Obama Administration. Mr. Holder regaled the audience with tales of Mr. West’s time as head of the Civil Division and later Associate Attorney General, praising Mr. West’s relentless work ethic and deep commitment to serving the public interest. Mr. Holder described Mr. West’s many accomplishments, ranging from his leadership in the Obama Administration’s review of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and the ultimate decision not to defend that statute, to his leadership in the DOJ’s challenges to discriminatory immigration laws passed in states such as Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah.
Mr. Holder also noted how fitting it is that Mr. West, a public interest champion, was honored by the nation’s preeminent public interest law school at a gala highlighting the students’ clinical work in the housing and community development area on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, saying “There is no better man to be here for such an occasion than Tony, who brought lawsuits under the act and made fair and bias free housing a priority for the Justice Department.”
Mr. Holder also harkened back to his 2010 Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture at UDC Law, when he called for law schools around the country to follow UDC Law’s model and adopt clinical and community services as a requirement of the law school curriculum. “Given the state of our country now, and the threats to Legal Services Corporation funding, we need lawyers trained in the UDC Law clinical model, now more than ever before,” said Mr. Holder. “I renew my call for other law schools to look to UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law for inspiration and consider adopting a serious clinic service requirement.”
Mr. Holder then introduced a video presentation which showcased Mr. West’s life and work and included congratulatory remarks from Mr. West’s sister-in-law U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), PepsiCo CEO and Chairman Indra K. Nooyi, founding partner of Kaplan & Company LLP and counsel to the Edith Windsor in the Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, Roberta Kaplan, and Thomas Perrelli, former U.S. Associate Attorney General and partner at Jenner & Block. Mr. West also made prerecorded remarks, speaking about the support of his family and upbringing as the driving force for his life of public service and the importance of practicing law as a matter of justice. “I think about law as justice giving voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless. I think about law as justice helping us build a community of trust and a community of caring. That’s really the highest and best purpose of the law,” said Mr. West in the video.
Tony West, who personally donated $25,000, on top of Uber Technologies, Inc.’s $50,000 sponsorship of the event, then joined Mr. Holder on the stage and extended his thanks to his friend and mentor, saying “My onetime boss, my all-the-time brother in the pursuit of justice, thank you for your kind words, thank you for your friendship, and your guidance that you give to me every day.” Mr. West reflected on the truth of his statement, after leaving the Department of Justice in 2014, that “when the history of the Holder Justice Department is written,” history “would judge that period to be a high water mark of greatness because of Eric Holder’s unique and unflagging leadership.”
“I am very mindful on nights like this that I stand on a platform of progress built by others,” said Mr. West, noting that his success was only made possible by his family who came before him. Mr. West shared the inspiring story of his mother-in-law Dr. Shyamala Harris, who immigrated to the U.S. from India in the late 1950s to pursue breast cancer research at UC Berkeley. “When Mother Harris wasn’t making scientific strides in the lab or busy raising her two remarkable daughters as a single mother, Mother Harris was marching, and she was meeting, and she was organizing for civil rights.” Mr. West also credited his father, Franklin West, “whose birth in 1940 to a family of sharecroppers in rural Georgia didn’t hold much of a future that was much different from his family’s past, but who discovered a freedom in education that would allow him to unlock opportunities into which he’d not been born.” Mr. West’s father became the first in his family to go to college, attending Talladega College, an HBCU. “Throughout our lives in both word and countless deeds, dad instilled in us an expectation of service as part of our obligation as citizens. And when I think about the all-too-short life journeys of both Mother Harris and my dad I can’t help but think about how they embody the best of America’s great story,” said Mr. West.
Mr. West went on to explain that being a UDC Law honoree “is so humbling, so special, because you, the UDC Law School community, your teachings, your faculty, your students, your alumni, you, like Mother Harris, like my dad, you embody the best of America’s great story. You remind us that America’s true character calls on each of us to rise above and to reach out. As Bobby Kennedy said on the night before he died fifty years ago today, “We are a great country, an unselfish country, a compassionate country.” And the work this law school makes real in the world reminds us of this basic truth even when our own leaders forget. Indeed, that is when your work is most important. And those moments when we lose our way, and we forget who we truly are. So thank you UDC Law not only for this great honor but for the work you must continue to do, and we must continue to support, the work of practicing law, of promoting justice, of changing lives, because that effort builds platforms of progress on which we all can stand tall.”
A Life of Service
UDC Law’s Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law Wade Henderson then stepped to the podium to present the second honor of the night, recognizing outgoing Dean Shelley Broderick for her many years of service. Professor Henderson, former CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, shared his first impressions of the “one-of-a-kind” Dean when she recruited him to teach at UDC Law, speaking to “her passion, her crackling energy, and her intensity all combined with her joie de vivre and her good humor.” He praised Dean Broderick for her many years of service to a law school “dedicated to opening the legal profession to underrepresented people and to serving those most in need.”
Dean Broderick joined Professor Henderson on the stage and gave stirring remarks as she reflected on her four decades of service at the law school, saying “leading UDC Law has been the honor of my life.” Dean Broderick was recruited in 1979 to lead the Criminal Defense Clinic at Antioch School of Law, UDC Law’s predecessor, and went on to earn her M.A.T. in clinical legal education from the school. She said, “The legendary Edgar and Jean Cahn hired me at Antioch School of Law on June 9, 1979. When I was hired, Jean told me she was assigning me to the admissions committee and she said, ‘your job is to bring in 150 of the worst troublemakers you can find who want to make social change.’”
She went on to do just that. Indeed, Dean Broderick highlighted in her remarks, above all, the strength of the student body, praising “the personal qualities our graduates bring to the table—grit, resilience, passion for justice, and the ability to relate to and communicate effectively with people in poverty, people in many cases very much like their own families and friends.” She noted that last year, 41% of UDC Law’s graduating class went into public interest and government service, compared to a national average of just 16%. The National Law Journal recently ranked UDC Law No. 2 in the nation for government and public interest job placement.
Ever gracious, Dean Broderick insisted that “UDC Law is no one-man band. It is a brilliant orchestra performing at the highest level and meeting its mission.” She asked the crowd to rally behind her successor and reflected that, contemplating her many happy years serving the cause of UDC Law, “I am filled with gratitude for all of those who have served on our Board, for the University community for its embrasure of the law school, for our students, and for the legal community here in D.C., which has stepped up to support our public law school financially.” Toward the end of her remarks, Dean Broderick invited D.C. Council to renew its 50% match on funds raised and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson indicated his support. With $400,000 raised for the evening, the D.C. Council’s match will add in nearly $100K, bringing the scholarship and fellowship funds raised to $500,000.
D.C. Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson then took center stage. Councilmember Cheh then presented a resolution recognizing Dean Broderick’s exemplary twenty-year tenure as dean and many contributions to the people of the District, praising her for building an institution that will continue to serve students and communities in need well past her tenure as Dean of UDC Law.
Beverly L. Perry, Senior Advisor to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, then joined the members of the D.C. Council on the stage to congratulate Dean Broderick and present the Mayor’s Executive Proclamation recognizing her service to the city and its residents.
The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) is committed to the public interest, providing more than 100,000 hours of legal services to thousands of D.C. residents each year through its nine legal clinics. With the largest clinical requirement of any U.S. law school, its top-ranked program provides students the opportunity to gain experience in both direct representation and effective community activism and policy advocacy. This commitment has led to a No. 2 ranking by The National Law Journal for government and public interest job placement and No. 8 for Best Clinical Training Program by U.S. News & World Report. The diverse student body at UDC Law boasts significant representation by women, people of color and older students.
Washington, DC—On Nov. 29, Stephen B. Bright delivered the 25th Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecture, titled “Race & Poverty in the Criminal Courts: The Death Penalty, Debtors’ Prisons, Mass Incarceration and Other Injustices,” to a packed house at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law.
UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick introduced Bright to the audience after brief welcoming remarks from DC School of Law Foundation Chair B. Michael Rauh and UDC President Ronald Mason. The interview-style conversation was facilitated by Wade Henderson, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law at UDC Law and Senior Advisor to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Bright and Henderson covered a range of criminal justice issues, including the impact of fines on citizens living in poverty, the arbitrary nature of death penalty application, and the trouble with attempting to predict future behavior.
“Basically debtors’ prisons”
Bright explained municipal courts are often “not about law enforcement” but “about revenue generation.” He provided examples of how seemingly small fines can add up over time, compounding the legal problems faced by people living in poverty. For someone with no income, he went on, even a fine of a few hundred dollars can be devastating. “It’s basically debtors’ prison,” Bright said, “Everything costs in the criminal justice system today.”
Before pivoting to the death penalty, Henderson and Bright outlined some measures that might improve the criminal justice system overall. Bright described a need to improve the quality of court-appointed representation, Henderson suggested better training of law enforcement personnel to help avoid implicit bias, and both men urged electing better representatives.
Henderson recalled September’s The Long Game: Why the 1957 Civil Rights Act Still Matters Today at UDC Law, at which Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, told the audience of his organization’s plans to remain involved in the election of prosecutors. In response, Bright said, “95% of elected top prosecutors are white. That’s remarkable in a court system that’s dealing with so many people of color.”
“The Capital of Capital Punishment”
In Harris County, Texas, 127 people who have been sentenced to death have been executed. Bright said, “Harris County is the capital of capital punishment,” before putting the numbers into perspective. “That’s more than any state except Texas itself,” which, as of a Nov. 9 update to the Death Penalty Information Center, has executed 545 people, followed by Virginia with 113 and Oklahoma with 112 (Bright cited numbers from before the recent update). Bright explained that, after electing three women in succession, including current District Attorney Kim Ogg, Harris County death penalty numbers are down “dramatically,” a trend he attributes to a prosecution that better represents the diversity of the county’s population.
“Closest we get to witchcraft”
In April, Bright argued before the Supreme Court in McWilliams v. Dunn that an indigent defendant is entitled to access to an independent expert witness. In June, the Court narrowly decided for the defense, but Bright said a case like this “shows what Congress and the courts are doing to make life difficult if not impossible” for defendants who are poor. “So much of what’s going on in these cases is about procedure,” Bright said, “It’s all about ways to trip people up to keep them out of court.”
Furthermore, Bright explained, the question of whether someone might be a future danger to society is “as close as we get in court to practicing witchcraft.”
Henderson remarked, “It’s a strange new world.”
“As arbitrary as getting struck by lightning”
Henderson then turned the conversation to the inherent racial bias in application of the death penalty, citing Justice Potter Stewart’s famous proclamation from Furman v. Georgia that “getting the death penalty is as arbitrary as getting struck by lightning.”
This analogy, Bright declared, illuminated not just the arbitrary nature of the death penalty but the tendency for its application to disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. “The reason for all the problems with the death penalty was racist, white supremacy” and “the terrible way in which poor people are dealt with in this system.”
“A matter of race and place”
The death penalty, then, according to Bright’s experience is a “matter of race and place.” To demonstrate his point, he offered the startling statistic that, of over 3,000 counties in the United States, only 30 jurisdictions account for the majority of death sentences. He reiterated much hinges on the prosecutor, a reminder to the audience of the importance of paying attention to elections.
“Withering on the vine”
Before opening the floor for questions, Bright discussed the trend toward fewer death sentences, some considerations about death penalty methods, and the legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Court ruled defendants have a constitutional right to an attorney at the state level.
On how often the death penalty is applied, Bright shed some light on a trend away from its application, going from 315 sentences in 1995 to only 31 last year. “There is some chance,” he said, “it’s kind of going to wither on the vine.”
Henderson asked if the decision in Gideon is being upheld, to which Bright lamented, “I really wish I could say ‘yes,’ but the answer is ‘no.’” Gideon, he went on, was an unfunded mandate, but the decision did not indicate how it would be paid for. “Why would the state that wants to convict, imprison, and kill a person pay to defeat that very purpose?”
Regarding the use of lethal injection and other methods to administer the death penalty, Bright discussed a return to firing squads, which he indicated would likely “be the end of the death penalty.” In sum, he reminded the audience, “You are killing people; let’s be honest about what we’re doing here.”
Questions, asked by UDC Law students, UDC faculty, attorneys, and community members, ranged from what law students can do to address the issues presented in the lecture to historical developments that have led to current trends to what lessons the United States can provide to other countries in reforming their own criminal justice systems.
The lecture concluded with Dean Broderick presenting Stephen B. Bright with the Dean’s Cup, given each year to the Rauh Lecturer. A reception followed, offering guests an opportunity to speak with Bright and other members of the UDC Law community.
About Stephen B. Bright
Stephen B. Bright has tried capital cases before juries in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, and argued and won four capital cases before the Supreme Court. He spent 35 years with the Southern Center for Human Rights, first as director and then as president and senior counsel. He is now Professor of Practice at the Georgia State College of Law and teaches at the law schools at Yale and Georgetown. Subjects of his litigation, teaching and writing include capital punishment, legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, conditions and practices in prisons and jails, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, judicial independence and sentencing. He received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998. The Daily Law Report, Georgia’s legal newspaper, named him “Newsmaker of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia and “Lawyer of the Year” in 2017 for his success in the Supreme Court and pursuit of justice. His curriculum vitae and publications are available at law.yale.edu/stephen-b-bright.
The Rauh Lecture is always open to the public, free of charge, and followed by a reception.
About Joseph L. Rauh, Jr.
Joe Rauh envisioned a law school that would function as a training ground for public interest lawyers: a school where law students could learn basic skills and represent the underrepresented at the same time, a school that made dedication to public service a criterion for admission and commitment to public service a life-long responsibility. The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law is Joe Rauh’s dream come true. A founding member of the Law School’s Board of Governors, Rauh remained one of its staunchest supporters until his last hours with us.