Katie Steefel, Denver Law 2L, reports from the Lat Crit Conference

October 04, 2015

Katie Steefel is co-founder and co-chair of the Education Policy & Outreach Group (EPOG), a student group at Denver Law whose mission is to “foster law students’ and stakeholders’ capacities to understand, discuss, address, and impact what is an increasingly nuanced field of law and public policy increasing educational access.” Follow EPOG here. She attended and spoke on a panel at the 2015 Lat Crit Conference, held October 1 through 3 in Southern California. From her experience there, Ms. Steefel filed the following account:

Inclusiveness: the word continually came to mind throughout the 2015 Latina & Latino Critical Legal Theory Conference. Both the scholarly work and the atmosphere of the conference were infused with values of inclusiveness, diversity, and challenging the status quo. As a one of the few students attending the conference of faculty members, I was slightly apprehensive before the weekend. However, I had no reason for such apprehension. The anti-hierarchical and non-presumptuous vibe of the conference made a student like myself feel comfortable sitting next to anyone at any event during the three days. At almost every meal–all with ample vegetarian and vegan options–I sat next to someone new and had an engaging conversation. At every panel, comments and feedback from all members of the audience were encouraged and the children of those parent faculty member were welcomed. Each conversation left me thinking about a new way to pursue social justice.

It was invigorating to see the work of so many faculty members dedicated to disrupting subordination in its numerous forms and to advancing racial, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic justice. One of my favorite panels was called, “Prison Reform: Theory and Practice.” The three person panel examined prisons from various aspects such as: prisoners’ rights in jail, the manifestation of protests of prisons in the form of hip hop music, and a discussion of prison common spaces. The three completely distinct scholarly works all attacked the same problem of the treatment of prison, yet from very different perspectives. The three approaches side-by-side demonstrated the wide-range of issues facing the living standards of prisons.

One slight negative from the weekend is that I am even less sure of how I want to fight for social justice because my eyes were opened to so many new ways to do so. The three days exposed me to many different avenues to chip away at subordination. The huge presence of DU faculty at the conference was immensely encouraging for me as a student, illuminating the many rich resources available at Denver Law to help me find my path after law school.

Denver Law’s RPL Group is a presence at the 2015 Lat Crit Conference

October 03, 2015

Denver Law’s Rocky Mountain Collective on Race, Place and Law (RPL) sent a large contingent to the 2015 Lat Crit Conference, held October 1 through 3 in Southern California.

2015 Leonard v.B.Sutton Colloquium

September 29, 2015


The 48th Annual Sutton Colloquium takes on the serious issues challenging the international community in their efforts to achieve Sustainable Development and Sustainable Energy goals. These goals aim to end poverty, protect the planet, enable access to sustainable energy for the common good. Leading academics and experts will engage in discussion around these challenges to global governance and the opportunities available to move ahead.

The Myles S. McDougal Lecture will be presented by Dr. Lakshman D. Guruswamy, Nicholas Doman Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Boulder. His topic, Global Energy Justice: The Jurisprudential Lineage, will look at existing principles of justice over the ages and argue that they should be applied in the solution of providing sustainable, renewable energy to the poor of the world.

NEW!! Presentations and Supporting Materials

Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 10th, 2015, from 8:30am – 5:30pm at the Sturm College of Law. CLE credits are available.

Be Part of the Pipeline Project at Denver Law

September 22, 2015

To learn more about the Denver Law’s Pipeline Project, and to volunteer for any of the opportunities below, please contact Randy Wagner

Chancellor Chopp and others on the need for increasing access to higher education

September 18, 2015

The September 18 inauguration ceremonies to install Rebecca Chopp as DU’s 18th chancellor included a breakfast panel which gave Chopp, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and other state education leaders a platform to explore and examine “the importance to Colorado of increasing access to higher education.”

Chancellor Chopp praised higher education as a public, and not just a private, good crucial to the nation. “Democracy and education have gone hand in hand throughout our country’s history,” she stated. Mayor Hancock emphasized the role colleges play in preparing their students to operate well in an increasingly diverse and globalized world.

Other panelists were Metro State University President Stephen Jordan, Colorado Community College System President Nancy McCallin, and Tim Foster, President of Colorado Mesa University. They spoke about the value of and need for access institutions within higher education. “The faces of our students,” said Jordan, “should reflect the faces of our community, and the faces of our faculty should reflect the faces of our students.”

See video-recorded highlights of the breakfast panel on access to higher education here.

Purvi Shah: Movement lawyering to support social justice

September 11, 2015

Purvi Shah, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York City, spoke with Denver Law students on September 11, 2015, about social movement lawyering. Drawing from her work and experiences in Ferguson, Missouri, and other locations, Ms. Shah began by emphasizing strategy rather than tactics: “I want us to take…a step back and talk about strategy,” she said. “Not what are we going to do, but two other questions that are more important. Why do we do it? And how?”

A series of “Rules of Movement Lawyering” followed, beginning with this one: “If you want to be a movement lawyer, the first thing to do is train yourself to run to the fire. When everybody else is running in the opposite direction, that is actually a significant data point for you. That means it is time to run in the direction where everything is going on.”

The second rule she offered is, “Go without an agenda”—on arrival, withstand the urge to jump in and immediately start doing and, instead, take time to listen. Lawyers have a set of skills valuable to social change but not sufficient to make it happen. It is vital to build coalitions with all participants. That begins by understanding the perspectives of others involved.

“Decide what side you are on,” is Ms. Shah’s third rule of movement lawyering. The fourth is, “You have do decide what you are going to do….Figure out what is needed in that moment.” Make signs, prepare food, pitch in. Lawyering is not the only work a movement lawyer does, and legal advocacy is not the only thing that drives a movement for social change. “High impact, low ego is a really beautiful, fitting anthem for …movement lawyers,” she said. “[I]t’s really trying to move yourself to the place where you will do what needs to be done.” Doing what is needed, she counseled, can be less than glamorous, and all roles have value. Next, she emphasized that this work is traumatizing and painful. It is important, throughout the process, to be self-aware “of your emotional capacities to do this work.” Those building and sustaining effective movements must stay emotionally well and whole.

Lastly, she counseled, it is the nature of social movements that, “No one knows what they are doing,” no one has all the answers, the perfect strategy. What does this mean? A movement lawyer must be open, reflective, self-aware, adaptive and collaborative. “Justice is a team sport,” she said. Prepare yourself for opportunities. The question to ask yourself, she said, is, “Can you do your part to move us to the next place?”

Ms. Shah directs the Bertha Justice Institute at the CCR. The institute is designed “to build a new generation of lawyers and legal workers that have the vision, expertise and determination to create social change.” Her talk at Denver Law kicked off a two-day meeting, “Lawyering for the Public Good: A Gathering of Denver Law Students Committed to Social Justice.” See and hear her discussion with Denver Law students on September 11, 2015 here.

Crimmigration Law by Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

September 10, 2015

In his newly-published book, Crimmigration Law, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, visiting assistant professor at Denver Law, maps the evolving convergence of criminal law and immigration law. “For most of the nation’s history,” he writes, “these operated almost entirely free of the other.” Now, however, “[t]hat division has undeniably become a historical relic. The world of criminal courthouses has collided with the world of immigration courthouses.”

The book is written, Professor García Hernández said, “for practitioners expanding their practice from criminal law to immigration law or vice versa, and also for the new crop of lawyers who understand these once separate areas of doctrine are melding in a unique way.”

Asked whether Crimmigration Law has particular relevance in the current political climate, Professor García Hernández replied, “Sadly, it does. Many policy prescriptions advocated and adopted by the Obama Administration ratchet up treatment of migrants with the clear implication they are inherently dangerous. And we’ve seen Republican presidential candidates state the same in the most explicit terms.”

At Denver Law, Professor García Hernández teaches Criminal Procedure, Torts and Immigration Law, as well as a seminar on Crimmigration Law. In 2014, he was presented the Derrick A. Bell, Jr. Award by the Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups, honoring him as a “junior faculty member who, through activism, mentoring, colleagueship, teaching and scholarship, has made an extraordinary contribution to legal education, the legal system or social justice.”

Professor García Hernández writes often about crimmigration law on his Blog.

Obergefell is a “building block” toward expanding legal protections for children

August 04, 2015

Kid Power!

In her August 4th post on PrawfsBlawg, Denver Law Associate Dean and Professor Catherine Smith argues that Obergefell—the landmark same sex marriage rights decision—opens a path that can lead to stronger protection of equal rights for children of unmarried parents. “The United States,” she notes, “has a long history of discrimination against children of unmarried parents” and denying them “many legal and social benefits as a way to show moral disapproval of their parents’ decision to have them outside the bonds of marriage.” Though the Obergefell Court recognized the harms of marriage bans on children of same-sex parents, it did not cite or reference non-marital status cases extending equal protection status to non-marital children. “Nevertheless,” writes Professor Smith, “this rich equal protection law precedent offers great promise post-Obergefell for children’s rights advocates” and “could serve as a potential building block in expanding the legal and economic protections for children in many types of family configurations and for developing a more robust meaning of ‘family.’”

See Professor Smith’s PrawfsBlawg post for the argument in detail.

HNBA President (and Denver Law grad) Cynthia Mares on the lack of diversity in the legal profession

July 13, 2015

“As the current president of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), I spend a lot of my time talking with students, lawyers, and judges about the frustrating disconnect between the frequently expressed commitment to diversity in the legal profession and the absence of real progress in achieving that diversity.”

So writes Cynthia Mares. A Denver Law grad, Ms. Mares began her second term as Arapahoe County Public Trustee in early 2015. She was first appointed to the position in 2012 by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

Her recent article in The Federal Lawyer documents and then examines why “this commitment to diversity and inclusiveness just doesn’t seem to be translating into the kind of measurable progress you might expect.” And she talks about paving a better path going forward.

Implicit bias plays a role in decisions that bar or hold back diverse attorneys, she notes. “There is evidence, though, that we can work around our implicit biases.” And she points out that, “Corporate culture that encourages diversity and inclusion can have real benefits for other reasons as well.” Her article highlights efforts to diversify the legal profession undertaken by corporations, law firms and the HNBA.

When changing social norms lead to changes in the law

July 02, 2015

Visiting Denver Law in August, 2012, as the Workplace Law Program’s Keynote Speaker, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum spoke on the topic, The Creation of Social Change: Disability and LGBT Rights. She explained that advances in rights result from synergy that develops among three sources—the law, policy in practice and social norms. Here’s how she defined the three: the law is the text adopted by legislators, administrators and the judiciary; whether and how the text of that law is absorbed into the daily practices of an organization accounts for policy in practice; and social norms are understandings that engage the hearts and minds of people.

Now think about how these three sources interact, and which of the three leads the change. In the case of LGBT rights, Commissioner Feldblum stated that changes in the law are the product of changing social norms. Those norms encourage development of policy in practice. An example is protections for employees of differing sexual orientations adopted voluntarily by many prominent companies. At some point, according to the scheme developed in Commissioner Feldblum’s Keynote Address, the law will catch up.

While Chai Feldblum was discussing LGBT rights in the workplace, her proposition, that changes in social norms and policy in practice can precede and push forward changes in the law, applies as well to evolution in the law of marriage relating to same-sex couples. And, again, business entities are key catalysts in this process.

Consider the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges. Among the many amicus briefs submitted in favor of Obergefell and other petitioners was the Brief of 379 Employers and Organizations Representing Employers . The authors argue that the dual regime (prior to the Court’s decision in Obergefell), wherein some states permit marriage for “all of our employees and colleagues; others prohibit marriages between couples of the same sex and refuse to recognize existing same-sex marriages,” burdens employers. “It creates legal uncertainty and imposes unnecessary costs and administrative complexities on employers, and requires differential employer treatment of employees who are similarly situated save for the state where they reside.” The result is that “[s]tate laws that prohibit or decline to recognize marriages between same-sex couples hamper employer efforts to recruit and retain the most talented workforce in those states.” (Statements above are found on pages 1-2 of the brief. The 379 employers and organizations composing the amici curiae submitting this brief fill pages 2 through 13).

It’s been said more than once that “What’s good for business is good for America.” You can argue whether that view holds or not in all domains of public policy. In the opinion of the 379 employers signing onto this brief, however, the Court’s historic decision in Obergefell—holding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry—will help them prosper.

To close the circle on this discussion, let’s think about protections against discrimination in the workplace. That was Commissioner Feldblum’s focus during her talk at Denver Law. (See what else she did and said at Denver Law that day.) The fight for LGBT rights is likely to head this direction next. See for example this early word on that view, offered by Erik Eckholm in the New York Times two days after the Supreme Court announced the Obergefell decision.

- Randy Wagner (email me here)

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