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LegalSpeaks is a progressive blog on legal-political issues with an impact on race and gender. Whether covering politics, court trials, Supreme Court arguments or the latest laws and bills affecting minorities and women, LegalSpeaks blog articulates unique and thought provoking opinions. The blog is not meant to be construed as legal advice.

Women’s History Month and the Supreme Court

March 19th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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supcourt_buildingAs we wind down Women’s History month, the role women played in Supreme Court cases is pivotal in understanding the huge  impact of women on the laws of this country.  For centuries, women advanced the law in cases involving civil rights, women’s right, marriage equality, health care and a myriad of other issues.   For all that remains to be done in the area of women’s rights, we have largely come from the second class status barring women from practicing professions,  attending schools and  marrying the person of their choosing without infringement of the government.


Beginning in 1869, Myra Bradwell applied for admission to the Illinois bar in accordance with a state statute that permitted any adult of good character and with sufficient training to be admitted to the practice of law. Because she was a woman, however, the Illinois Supreme Court denied her admission, noting that the “strife” of the bar would surely destroy femininity. Chief Justice Charles B. Lawrence  of the Illinois Supreme Court stated that “God designed the sexes to occupy different spheres of action.”

Bradwell appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that her right to practice law was protected by the Privileges or Immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1873, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states may statutorily deny women the right to practice law.   Today women make up over 35% of all lawyers according to an American Bar Association report in 2016.


Following on the heels of Myra Bradwell, Virginia Minor of Missouri, a member of the suffrage movement, applied to the voter’s registrar  to register to vote. She was not allowed to register. In 1875, her case advanced to the Supreme Court. The question presented  was whether  the adoption of the fourteenth amendment, permits a woman, who is a citizen of the United States and of the State of Missouri, to become  a voter in that State, notwithstanding the provision of the constitution and laws of the State, which confine the right of suffrage to men alone.   In 1875, the U. S. Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett decided that no new State admitted to the Union had ever conferred the right of suffrage upon women.  It would take a constitutional amendment in 1920 to confer the right to vote for women. And it would take decades later for Black women to become franchised in Jim Crow states.

In 1951,  third grader, Linda Brown, was denied entrance to Topeka’s all-white elementary schools. In the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled on May 17, 1954, through Chief Justice Earl Warren that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” as segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”  Years later, Linda Brown would address the implications of Brown v. Board of Education:



In 1967, the case of Mildred Loving and Richard Loving would change the laws of interracial marriage. In 1664 – 300 years before the Loving decision, Maryland passed the first British colonial law banning marriage between whites and slaves — a law that, among other things, ordered the enslavement of white women who married black men. In 1667, the Commonwealth of Virginia banned all interracial marriages, threatening to exile whites who marry people of color. By 1883 in Pace v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state-level bans on interracial marriage do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling will hold for more than 80 years until Loving v. Virginia.

Mildred Jeter, of African American and Native American descent married Richard Loving, a white man in 1958 in the District of Columbia and then came back to their home state of Virginia.  They  were arrested and later tried.  They agreed to leave  their Virginia home due to its miscegenation laws and move to Washington, D.C.     Unable to return to visit Virginia, they sought legal help through Attorney General Robert Kennedy and then with the ACLU. In a unanimous decision, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that the laws forbidding inter-racial marriages were unconstitutional. Mildred Loving spoke to ABC News immediately following the decision on the effects of it:


Loving v. Virginia paved the way for Windsor v. U.S.  and the government’s discrimination of federal benefits to legally married same sex couples.  Edie Windsor sued the U. S. government which denied federal estate tax exemption benefits to legally married same sex couples.  In a 5-4 decision in 2013, the  Supreme Court declared that the Defense of Marriage act was unconstitutional.  Edie’s case paved the way for marriage equality in 50 states with the case of Obergefell v. Hodge in 2015.


Unlike Mildred Loving, Edie Windsor and Linda Brown,  Washington Post CEO Katharine Graham came from a family of privilege when she faced off with the Supreme Court and the Nixon administration over the Pentagon Papers. Nonetheless, Graham was still treated with the  second class rights of a woman when her father, Eugene, upon his retirement,  passed the helms of the Post over to Graham’s husband, instead of to his daughter Katharine.  However, as Katharine’s husband would later take his life in 1963, she became the CEO of the Washington Post. Faced with the decision in  1971 on whether to publish the Pentagon Papers exposing the lies of the Vietnam war, in defiance of the Nixon Administration’s lawsuit against the New York Time, she decided to publish.  The U. S. government filed suit for an injunction which led to the Supreme Court case holding  that the paper’s first amendment right to make information public trumped the government’s right to keep secrets. “In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do,” wrote Justice Hugo L. Black.  Graham’s valiant efforts changed the course of history, as did those of Edie Windsor, Mildred Loving, Linda Brown, Mildred Bradwell and  countless others.

Women still await full rights with regard to pay equity, sexual harassment laws, discrimination in the workplace, among other areas.  But time is almost up in these areas too.

Debbie Hines is an attorney and a member of the Supreme Court bar. She also is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center.

International Women’s Day and Black Sheroes

March 8th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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Dr. Dorothy I. Height and Debbie Hines

Dr. Dorothy I. Height and Debbie Hines


International women’s day on March 8, 2018 is particularly special in light of the recent #MeToo and #TimesUP movements. As we celebrate international women’s day to commemorate the many generations of women who have advanced women’s rights, I wanted to highlight five African American women whom I admire for their strength, courage and fortitude.


When I think of a woman who displayed enormous resilience and fortitude in unfathomable times. I can’t help but honor Harriet Tubman for her heroic and humanitarian efforts in advancing freedom for slaves. Born into slavery, she escaped in 1849 and later led hundreds of other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad with help from abolitionists.  Tubman devoted her entire life for racial equality and women’s rights.  After slavery ended, she continued with efforts on suffrage for women. In honor of her life, the U.S. Treasury announced in 2016 that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson in the center of the new $20 bill.


As a lawyer, I stand on the shoulders of Charlotte E. Ray.  In 1872 Charlotte Ray became the first woman admitted to the Bar in the District of Columbia, as well as the first African-American woman to be a member of the formal bar anywhere in the U.S. She opened a solo practice in Washington, DC specializing in real estate law, but according to historians, she was not able to obtain sufficient legal business and had to give up the active practice of law. Ray remained involved in the suffrage cause and returned to her first career, teaching, in New York in 1879.  Today women lawyers make up 36% of lawyers, according to the American Bar Association’s report in January, 2017.

Dorothy I. Height was a fierce civil rights and women’s rights leader who was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and fought alongside of Martin Luther King.  She counseled presidents on civil and women’s rights issues including Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson to President Barack Obama. Height was one of the original organizers of the March on Washington but did not receive the opportunity to speak due to her gender. She would later help found the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (D. NY), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and others.  National Women’s Political Caucus founded in 1971 called for action “against sexism, racism, institutional violence and poverty” and recruits and trains progressive women candidates to run for public office through today.  In 2018, there are the  largest numbers of women running for elective offices in American history.

Former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (D. N.Y.)  was the first black woman elected to the U.S.  Congress in 1968. She served until 1983.  And in 1972 she became the first woman to run as a candidate for president in the Democratic party and the first African American to run for president in a major party, thus paving the way for Barack Obama. She ran on a campaign of “unbought and unbossed”.  Despite being a political trailblazer,  Chisholm would later say that, “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black.” Chisholm knew her efforts were not in vain but a “catalyst for change”.

Rosa Parks never held a political office.  In her own right, she was a fierce women’s and civil rights activist.  She is often referred to as the “mother of the freedom movement.”  She was far more than the Black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus designated for whites only section in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.  Her actions started the 381-bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama and helped to launch nationwide efforts to end discrimination in public facilities. On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower Mississippi court’s ruling that stated racial discrimination laws in public accommodations are unconstitutional. Parks’ small but mighty gesture of refusing to give up her seat on a bus led to one of the largest and most successful boycott movements against racial segregation.  At her death in 2005, Rosa Parks was the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Today women are still using their efforts as catalysts for change for gender and racial equality.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political and legal commentator.  She addresses issues on women and race in law and politics.  She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA in history from the University of Pennsylvania.


Please No More Sam Nunberg Circus as Breaking News

March 7th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
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Sam Nunberg -Courtesy of the Grio

Sam Nunberg -Courtesy of the Grio

Anyone, who turned on cable news TV at any time on Monday, couldn’t help but see a defiant Sam Nunberg, a former Trump aide, ranting and raving about his refusal to appear before a grand jury to testify pursuant to a subpoena. Nunberg, appearing possibly inebriated or at least smelling of alcohol according to CNN’s Erin Burnett, speculated about Trump, Roger Stone and other parties involved in the Russian-Trump investigation. Whenever did speculation become breaking news?  I wonder who on the major cable news outlets thought Nunberg’s hours long coverage was appropriate.

As I watched Nunberg, I wondered what the world must now think of the U.S. While we do have very good reason to be concerned about an Russian involvement or interference in our election, we do not have a good reason to air every possible aspect as breaking news. And Nunberg appears in the category  of non-breaking news given the non-substance of his interview.

I do think there are journalists that would not have interviewed Nunberg to the point of sickening to watch on air.  MSNBC Joy Reid recently interviewed Stephanie Hamill, an adviser for the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, who spouted conspiracy theories when asked to answer a question.  Akin to what should have happened with Nunberg’s speculation on Trump affairs, Reid cut off  Hamill’s responses, saying she does not harbor conspiracy theories on her show.  I think it would have been appropriate for one of the news outlets to have proceeded to commercial and return without Nunberg.   Perhaps, Joy Reid was needed to interview Nunberg to cut short his breaking-non-breaking news segment.


On Friday, we will learn if Sam Nunberg, former Trump aide, will appear before the grand jury pursuant to the subpoena issued to him to produce documents and testify in the Russian-Trump investigation. He later changed his tone indicating that he will comply. Whatever he decides to do, I hope the cable news networks do not waste another entire day to interviewing and discussing him as breaking news.

Nunberg’s grand jury attendance or non-attendance is not breaking news worthy of the news time spent on it on Monday.  If he doesn’t appear, as a former proseuctor, I know that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will file a motion to compel him to testify and bring the requested documents. If a contempt order is entered against Nunberg, he must comply with the subpoena or face jail time.

There are so many stories that were news worthy on Monday and will be news worthy on Friday, in lieu of Nunberg;  Gun control debate and laws, immigration and ending of DACA, upcoming special elections and ensuring our  2018 and 2020 elections are secured, Flint, Michigan water contamination are just a few.  Former first lady Michelle Obama once said that when they go low, we go high. Monday’s coverage of Nunberg was a new low for cable TV  news.  I just hope the cable news outlets do not rinse and repeat similar coverage of Nunberg  all day on Friday.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.


Ban the Assault Weapons Elephant in the Room

February 28th, 2018 | Tags: , , , ,
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assaultweapons (1)On the same day that Florida House lawmakers’ committee voted to arm  some teachers, a Georgia social studies teacher was arrested for bringing a gun to school, firing it, barricading himself and causing students to run to avoid being stuck and possibly killed.   According to Dalton, Georgia police, the teacher,   Randall Davidson will  face charges of aggravated assault, carrying a weapon on school grounds, terroristic threats, reckless conduct, possession of gun during commission of a crime, and disrupting a public school.  Following the Parkland, Florida school shooting that killed 17 persons, Donald Trump proposed that teachers should be provided with incentives to be armed with guns in the classroom.

Florida House committee responded to the Parkland school shootings by approving a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy any gun, require a three-day waiting period for rifle purchases and create a program that could allow some teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.  Davidson had a concealed weapon and improperly used it.

Davidson points to one reason why teachers should not be armed. There are many reasons for this policy to never reach the light of day. Arming teachers will not solve the gun violence issue in schools.  It will only exasperate it.  Teachers are taught and paid to teach students.  They are not taught or trained to possibly shoot to kill their own students.  They are not trained to be SWAT police or law enforcement.  And even with trained law enforcement, they often get it wrong and kill innocent persons—as the shootings of many unarmed Blacks prove.

The Trump administration, GOP lawmakers and Florida lawmakers, many who get financial support from the NRA, refuse to ban assault rifles and associated ammunition.  Assault weapons are the elephant in the room.  Everyone can see the elephant but no one wants to acknowledge its presence. Short term fixes are like band aids to fix a person bleeding from a fatal gun wound. Until lawmakers begin by banning assault weapons and assorted ammunition, many persons will continue to bleed and die from being shot with assault weapons.

The shooter in the Parkland, Florida school shooting had 150 rounds of ammunition remaining before he chose to leave and walk out of the school.   He could have killed many more persons than the 14 students and three teachers.  If he had not been able to purchase the guns, the incident wouldn’t have happened.  Raising the age to buy guns is a limited fix. A killer like Nikolas Cruz can just wait three more years until he reaches the age requirement to buy a killing machine.  That fix is a temporary one.

Banning assault weapons and related ammunition is the one law that will effectively prevent the type of shootings that occurred in Parkland, Florida, Newtown, Connecticut, Charleston, SC, Aurora, Colorado, Las Vegas, Nevada, Columbine and many other locations. In November, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Maryland’s 2013 state ban on assault weapons.  The 4th Circuit federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia ruled that assault weapons are not protected by the second amendment, as they are weapons of war and not for self-defense.  While banning assault weapons will not cure all that ails this county in terms of gun violence, it is a good start to end mass killings in churches, schools, movie theaters, concerts, shopping centers and everywhere we congregate in crowds.

There is no legal reason preventing us from banning assault weapons of mass destruction—except for our cowardly lawmakers.  And if lawmakers won’t vote to ban assault weapons, it’s time to vote these lawmakers out.

Update:  Tweet From a student at Dalton High School on arming teachers.

my favorite teacher at Dalton high school just blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot. We had to run out The back of the school in the rain. Students were being trampled and screaming. I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe.


Washington, DC Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.  She is an outspoken gun control advocate.

Donald Trump is the Real “DISGRACEFUL” One

February 28th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump began his early morning tweeting on Wednesday by attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling him “DISGRACEFUL” all caps. Trump tweeted:

Donald J. Trump‏Verified account @realDonaldTrump


Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!




Apparently, Sessions’ latest Trump problem was doing what Trump requested but not doing it in the manner that Trump deemed appropriate.  Trump asked for an investigation into any potential FISA and surveillance abuse.  Sessions called on the Inspector General to investigate as the independent body that investigates those who enforce the law to make sure they are following the law.  Apparently, according to Trump, calling on the appropriate agency to investigate was “disgraceful.”


As the day progressed, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who testified before the White House Intelligence panel on investigating the Russian Trump possible collusion, offered her resignation. In testifying before the panel, Hicks admitted to sometimes telling “white lies”  for Trump—while stating that none were major or substantial.  I don’t know how Hicks was raised as a child. In my family, I was taught that a lie was a lie—white or otherwise.  And I was punished for telling little white lies.  I just hope she didn’t tell any “white Lies” when she testified before Special Prosecutor Mueller.  If she did, she might find herself being punished in the same court room as Paul Manafort facing criminal charges. Of course, Twitter folks couldn’t resist with the hashtag #WhiteLiesMatter.

Before Hicks, there was Kellyanne Conway who stated there are alternative facts. Again, there are facts and anything less than a fact is fiction.  The motto of the Trump administration is not I cannot tell a lie but one of lies and alternative facts are key.  Beginning with former Press Secretary Sean Spicer lying about the size of the Trump inauguration size in comparison to President Obama’s inauguration crowd, the Trump administration has no understanding of truth telling.  As the Trump administration continues to falter, here are ten things the Trump administration cannot tell the difference from:

  • Fact versus fantasy
  • Truth versus lies
  • Alternative facts versus reality
  • Disgrace versus honor
  • Witch hunt versus special investigation
  • President versus dictator
  • Democracy versus plutocracy
  • USA versus Russia
  • U. S. government versus private sector
  • Rule of law versus dictatorship

And if Trump cannot distinguish between these ten important issues, then Donald Trump is the real disgrace to our country. And I agree with Trump’s use of all caps—“DISGRACEFUL” but only as it compares to his presidency.  Donald Trump is the real disgraceful one.

Washington, DC  based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.



Here’s How to Fix DACA and Gun Laws

February 26th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
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UnionRallyGroupIn a significant blow to the Trump Administration, the Supreme Court denied, without comment, the administration’s request to leapfrog ahead the system to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court an adverse California federal court ruling on “DACA”- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Previously, a California federal judge denied the Trump administration’s order to immediately end DACA—stating that the Administration was enjoined nationwide from ending it.  It thereby ensured that almost 700,000 DREAMers may continue to remain in the country—at least for a while longer.   DACA is the program established by President Obama in 2012 which protects against deportation some of those who entered the country illegally as children. Trump sought to end the program in March, 2018.

The current status of the case, in light of the court’s ruling, is the Trump administration must now go through the normal court route and appeal the ruling to the 9th circuit, which hears appeals from California’s lower federal courts.  The Universities of the California filed a lawsuit stating that their lawsuit must be allowed to proceed before a ruling against DACA.  Depending on the ruling in the 9th circuit after hearing oral arguments and filing briefs, the case may still eventually proceed to the Supreme Court.  For now, it is not on the fast track that the Trump administration intended for it.   It could take well over a year to reach the Supreme Court.  By then—we may have a new Congress.

And for now, this puts DACA back in the public spotlight.   With much recent focus on gun legislation in light of the Parklands, Florida school shooting and killing of 17 persons, many other issues have taken a back seat.  It is as if the dyslexic Trump presidency and GOP controlled House and Senate lawmakers cannot focus on more than one issue at a time.  And the issue of gun violence extends far beyond school shootings to violence in our cities and everywhere people go.  Immigration and gun laws need fixing. Neither have been presented with any viable legislative fixes. With November, 2018 in the wings, it is all the more important that the Supreme Court declined to fast track DACA.

In the interim, everyone affected by DACA and this includes DREAMer’s schools, colleges, employers, families, friends and co-workers should register to vote and vote in the November midterm election. The future of over 600,000 persons who are in this country since childhood depends on it.  For now, until November, 2018, their lives hang in the balance.  Today’s Supreme Court decision gave DREAMers a much-needed reprieve.  Perhaps following November, 2018’s midterms election, a change in the GOP party- controlled House will offer a permanent fix to both DACA, immigration and gun laws. If the GOP will not fix either DACA, immigration or gun control laws, we need to fix the GOP by voting them out of office.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal/political commentator and member of the Supreme Court bar.


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