UDC-DCSL Faculty Writes To Students In Wake Of 2016 Election
Monday, November 14, 2016
Posted by: Jordan Uhl
Photo by Flickr User Ted Eytan
Washington, DC—Dear Students:
Following our earlier statement to you concerning the importance of civility, respect, and diversity, your faculty offers these additional thoughts about the role of lawyers in this historic period.
For many in this community, the result of the 2016 Presidential Election has been emotional and difficult. This election was marked by racial divisiveness, anger and threats, rhetorical calls to stronger “law and order,” threats on freedom of speech, voting, and religion, as well as, disturbing comments about women, immigrants, people with disabilities, people of color, Jewish people, Muslims, military families, and the LGBTQ community.
The next Administration will present immediate challenges with new laws, new regulations, new policies, on a host of important issues like the environment, criminal justice, economics, race, religious freedom, labor, taxes, immigration, housing, and many others. A reshaped United States Supreme Court will impact civil liberties and legal obligations. A host of different policies will likely alter how government addresses the various social, economic, and cultural problems that face this nation. At core, these are all legal changes that require legal responses.
For some in this community, this future change is welcome. For others, it is threatening and disheartening. The national vote almost evenly divided between two visions reflecting a divided nation on key issues. We ask that as a community we recognize that difference, but also promise to engage the future.
For students despondent about the outcome, or fearful about the future, we offer two reflections and one challenge.
The first reflection is to recognize that if you study American history you will see that this is not the first time Americans have faced similar change or challenge. In prior administrations, and earlier eras, similar threats to legal rights and protections existed and were overcome. In those times, lawyers stood up and fought back to preserve constitutional ideals. You are becoming those lawyers. You are acquiring the tools to resist changes to legal and constitutional structure, or improve upon them. Social justice advocates have always been needed, and will be even more critical to the future now.
Second, this law school – more than most law schools – has the potential to be central to the development of this legal change on a national level. Our predecessor school Antioch College of Law (founded by Professor Edgar Cahn) arose in large measure from the rage and ferment of an earlier era and the accompanying call for social change and legal reform. You have the ability as law students and future lawyers to help shape our current school in a similar manner. If you want to devote your career to rebuilding the Voting Rights Act, fighting new “law and order” policing, or rewriting economic policy there are few other law schools you will find as supportive. You can make this change now, by organizing, meeting with professors, and charting your course for the future. For those students interested in embracing this challenge and standing up against racism, sexism, religious intolerance, economic isolation and inequality and the threat to “other-ize” large groups of fellow friends and family members this can be an important moment to embrace.
The challenge we set for you is to create an environment in this law school where change can be developed civilly, constructively, and using the tools of law you are learning. The great genius of America has been to create spaces for citizens and non-citizens to engage, disagree, and channel that disagreement into legal change. Diversity is our strength, not a weakness. Deliberation and then activism is part of the American ideal. Standing up against injustice is a core principle of this nation. Through litigation, legislation, commentary, protest, or providing ongoing support for legal reform, these avenues of spirited and active engagement are available to you. Millions of Americans who are disappointed or fearful about the future do not know what to do next. You are in a better position because you can take the skills, passion, and interest in law to help make the change you can believe in. We hope that you will come together and act in whatever way you see fit to live true to your values. We are here to help. As Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and never will.” As lawyers, you have great power to make those demands.
The Faculty, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law