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Woman Lawyer of the Year

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

On May 25, the Women’s Bar of DC honored Nancy Duff Campbell as the 2010 Woman Lawyer of the Year. Nancy Duff Campbell is the founder and president of the National Women’s Law Center for over 30 years. She founded the National Women’s Law Center at a time when there were few legal rights organizations advocating for women and particularly low income women. Campbell has spent her lifetime fighting for civil rights, poverty laws and women’s rights. Early on in her career, she recalls leaving New York to travel to Selma, Alabama to assist in the fight for civil rights. She recalls meeting and briefing Martin Luther King, Jr. about the violent activities of the Selma police towards the peaceful and nonviolent marchers. Over the past 30 years, she’s fought for changes in poverty law and welfare rights, notably for passage of laws permitting welfare recipients to move to another state without losing their benefits.

In addressing the over 1500 attendees, she reiterated a theme worth mentioning over and over again. In referencing the recent book of Dorothy I. Heights, Campbell challenged the audience of many women, judges and lawyers to get on purpose and stay on a specific purpose with your life.

Congratulations to Nancy Duff “Duffy” Campbell as the 2010 Woman Lawyer of the Year.

Are you on purpose with your life?

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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The state of Ohio reaches a settlement of $1 million for a former inmate who was freed and exonerated after spending 18 years in jail for the rape and abduction of a ten year old in 1991. New DNA evidence proved his innocence after he’s spent 1/3 of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit. Is $1 million the equivalent value for the 18 years he spent in jail. It amounts to approximately $45,000 per year for each of the 18 years behind bars.

Robert McClendon was 36 when he was wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Many state laws limit the amount that a person may receive for wrongful incarceration. Yet, a paltry $1 million for the loss of his life for 18 years is a crime. What do you think?

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KRXA Interview on Elena Kagan’s Nomination

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Please listen to my  radio interview on May 12, 2010 on KRXA in Monterey, CA on  Elena Kagan’s nomination by clicking the link below:

KRXA

Elena Kagan- The President’s Choice for Supreme Court

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Written by Debbie Hines for the Women’s Media Center, an Exclusive

For his second nomination to the high court, President Obama once more chooses a woman—one who lacks a paper trail of judicial opinions and has a history of pulling support from more than one ideological sector. And that, argues the author, is what makes some people nervous.

Trailblazing leader Elena Kagan has made history as the first female solicitor general, first female dean of the Harvard Law School and now the nominee to be the fourth woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. President Obama chose Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens and serve along with the two current women justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Having three women serve together for the first time in the Supreme Court’s 221-year history will bring that institution one step closer to reflecting the population it serves. Yet, I am disappointed that the Supreme Court will still lack an African American woman.

At 50, Elena Kagan could enjoy a long and illustrious career like Justice John Paul Stevens’ 35-year tenure. President Obama compared Elena Kagan to Justice Stevens, whose keen legal understanding coupled with an appreciation for a humane appreciation of the law’s impact on citizens, stood as the court’s voice of reason. Obama characterized Kagan as one of the “foremost legal minds in the country” and a “trailblazing leader” who seeks consensus on a matter by “understanding before disagreeing.”  She, like Justice Stevens, knows that behind the law are stories of people whose lives are impacted by the law.

A granddaughter of immigrants, Elena Kagan will bring the full package to the high court, tapping experience from all three branches of government—executive, legislative and judicial.  Early in her career, she served as law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall. There she received lessons in justice and life from the acclaimed jurist who understood first hand as former solicitor general and a litigant the court’s impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Kagan later worked as a White House lawyer under President Bill Clinton and served as a Senate staffer. Unlike the other current Supreme Court justices, she never served as a judge. With her Yale Law School degree, however, she is like all her potential colleagues in graduating from either Yale or Harvard.

President Obama meeting with nominee Elena Kagan in the Oval  Office.  Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
President Obama meeting with nominee Elena Kagan in the Oval Office. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Although senators opposed to her confirmation may use it as a weapon against her, Elena Kagan’s lack of prior judicial experience is no barrier to her serving on the court., As solicitor general, she prepared and argued cases before the Supreme Court and thus thoroughly understands its workings.  In the case of Brown v. Board of Education argued by her former boss, then attorney Thurgood Marshall, only one of the justices had served as a judge before appointment. Some of the court’s keenest minds and writers of its most noted opinions—such as Felix Frankfurter and Louis Brandeis—were not prior judges.  Former Chief Justices William Rehnquist and Earl Warren, both nominated by Republicans, never served as prior judges. However, as a trial lawyer, I do take exception to Justice Frankfurter’s assessment that the correlation between being a prior judge and fitness for the Supreme Court is “precisely zero.” Some judicial experience couldn’t but help.

Elena Kagan’s temperament is well suited for the high court, being acclaimed by her colleagues as a respecter of opposing viewpoints and a consensus builder. Former President George W. Bush’s attorney, Bradford Berenson, supported her solicitor general nomination, recalling her as having a “fair minded consideration of opposite views.”

Some speculate that Kagan’s tenure as solicitor general will require her to recuse herself from hearing a high number of cases. But more reasonable estimates suggest that she will probably not fair any worse than Justice Clarence Thomas who recused himself from 17 cases during his first term.

President Obama has made a wise choice in nominating Elena Kagan. First, his nomination recognizes the importance of more women serving on the Supreme Court to reflect our country’s diversity. Second, he’s playing it safe, recognizing that Kagan is battle tested as a solicitor general nominee; she knows how to handle herself. Third, he recognizes her intellectual and temperament skills as consensus builder.

Finally, her lack of prior judicial experience will blunt opposition by Republicans who would prefer a long trail of legal opinions to dissect and attack. Yet, the extent to which her positions are unknown is making a lot of people nervous. Progressives are troubled by Kagan’s stance on the Sixth Amendment, that the right to effective counsel only applies when defense attorneys give incorrect advice and not when they remain silent on issues such as deportation.  Her support of the legality of detainees’ detention without trials is also troubling to progressives. Conservatives will no doubt take issue with her refusal while Harvard’s dean to allow military recruiters on campus due to her opposition to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

Nonetheless, it is likely that Kagan will receive enough votes to be confirmed by the Senate. If so, I wonder whom President Obama will nominate to replace her as solicitor general. Will he nominate another woman or perhaps the first black woman to serve as solicitor general to fill her capable shoes? We cannot afford to take one step forward and another step backward.

But let’s take one step at a time.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

The Media’s Lopsided View on Black Women’s Issues

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Recently, ABC’s Nightline aired a segment on single successful African American women. The segment was titled Why Can’t Successful Black Women Find a Man? Nightline featured a panel of so called experts on the subject including comedians Steve Harvey and Sherrie Shepherd, actor Hill Harper, Jimi Izrael  and Jacque Reid. The show presented a face off between the men and women panelists. Actor Hill Harper recognized the seriousness of the issue. He articulated that the issue was really about the breakdown of the black family. So where were the renowned relationship experts who could shed intelligent light on the subject?  Where were the black Dr. Phil’s? Why weren’t they considered in doing the segment?

ABC’s Nightline bills itself as a late night news program.  It is not a daytime talk show but one where people turn to see more news after the news.  There are black PhD’s and psychologists who are qualified to speak on black relationship topics. The segment would have been balanced and note worthy if someone with the credentials of Dr. Audrey B. Chapman or Dr. Larry E. Davis appeared to shed some intelligent light on the topic. Dr. Chapman is a renowned relationship expert, therapist, author and speaker on relationship issues between black men and women. She has authored relationship books on black men and women and has a weekly talk show aired on WHUR- FM in Washington, DC where she offers professional relationship advice.  Dr. Larry E. Young, professor at University of Pittsburg, with dual doctorate degrees in psychology and social work is a frequent lecturer and author on being black and single. Both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Davis have researched and studied the topic that was presented on Nightline.

Steve Harvey is funny as a comedian. But Harvey as an expert on love relationships is like Sara Palin as a foreign affairs expert because she can see Russia from her house. The media would not use Betty White as an expert in a news segment on aging. Nor would they use David Letterman as an expert commentator on extortion, although he knows something about the subject. Jay Leno loves cars but he has never been called upon to opine on cars as a commentator. That’s because the media wouldn’t even think of using a comedian or actor in those situations.  But, if the story line is on black women, that’s another story.

So, what is attributable to the difference in how the media views commentators on black female topics? It goes beyond the Nighline segment on black women. It speaks to a lack of integrity when it comes to black topics.  I urge ABC and other media outlets, their white and black producers to do a little homework when researching expert sources for topics relating to black women. We might all learn something in the process. A little professionalism goes a long way.