Latina Lawyers: Underrepresented and Overqualified

By Cleo Hernandez
Associate Editor, Volume 23
Editor-in-Chief, Volume 24


In 2009, Justice Sotomayor became the first ever Latina to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Gender violence, sexual harassment, and feminism have all been dancing around on the center stage of world politics lately, as displayed by the traction that the #MeToo movement has gained on both social and mainstream media platforms. And indeed, immense bravery is required of every woman and man that speaks out as a victim of sexual harassment or domestic violence. However, packaging these complex issues into a hashtag, or a sound bite, or a news article has inevitably erased the nuances that define modern day feminism, and that affects women of color. In addition, the current national controversy about immigration has become overtly racialized and criminalized putting certain racial and ethnic groups in the spotlight. These national moods compound to make today a particularly tough time to be a Latina in America. Especially if one is a Latina in a profession with few peers of a similar racial and gender identity. Latinas comprise less than two percent of attorneys in the United States.[1]

Even without the recent publicity surrounding these new political conversations, a Latina lawyer faces a career path filled with race, class, and gender-based obstacles.[2] A lack of role models and financial resources can be a barrier for Latinas to even begin to consider attending law school.[3] Once in law school and as an attorney, the lack of Latinas in the profession can feel isolating, and can create low self-esteem in Latinas.[4] There is hardship involved when assimilating and fitting into the law school culture, being tokenized, and being afraid to be labeled as either too passive, or as a “fiery” or “hot-headed” Latina.[5] Furthermore, microaggressions and overt racism can make it difficult to navigate courtrooms and law firms.[6] Latina lawyers report oftentimes being misidentified in the courtroom as the bailiff, the interpreter, the secretary, or the defendant.[7] Additionally, when a Latina lawyer is promoted, she will perceive (or hear directly from others) that her coworkers see her as not qualified for the new position, and believe that she only received the promotion because she was a minority or a woman.[8]

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Attacks on Asian Americans

By Ben Cornelius
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Kyle Descher was born in Korea, but adopted at a young age by an American couple. [1] Back when he was a college student he and a roommate headed out to a bar after a Washington State University football victory over Oregon. [2] As the pair approached the bar, the remark “fucking Asian” was hurled at Descher. Descher ignored the remark and went about his night.[3] But a few moments later an unknown assailant unleashed a vicious blow that broke Descher’s jaw in two places, and knocked him to the floor, unconscious and bleeding badly.[4] It took three titanium plates to get his jaw back together.[5] His mouth was wired shut.[6] He had to eat through a straw and would wake up several times a night from the throbbing pain.[7]

Hate crimes and crimes, and crimes in general, against Asian-Americans have been steadily rising. [8] In Los Angles, an L.A. County Commission on Human Relations report found that crimes targeting Asian-Americans tripled in that county between 2014 and 2015.[9] These sort of attacks also rose in New York City.[10]  Between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of Asian and Pacific Islander victims of robbery rose from 11.6 percent to 14.2 percent; felonious assault from 5.2 percent to 6.6 percent; and grand larceny from 10.3 percent to 13.5 percent.[11] The robbery statistic is particularly interesting, as robberies overall were down 29 percent over that same period despite the increase in robberies of Asians.[12] Due to likely underreporting, the statistics may be much more troubling. Language barriers, immigration status, and unfamiliarity with the criminal justice system can cause Asians to be hesitant to report crimes.[13] “They look at us as easier targets,” said Karlin Chan, an activist in New York’s Chinatown.[14]

Unfortunately, vicious race-based assaults on Asian-Americans are nothing new.[15] Cases of hate crimes against Asian-Americans can be found all the way back to the 1800’s.[16] The white supremacist group ‘Arsonists of the Order of Caucasians’ savagely murdered four Chinese men whom they blamed for taking away jobs from white workers.[17] The victims were tied up, had kerosene poured on them and then were set ablaze.[18] In 1987, a New Jersey gang calling itself the “Dotbusters” vowed to drive East Indians out of Jersey City by vandalizing Indian-owned businesses.[19] The gang also got violent and used bricks to bludgeon a young South Asian male into a coma.[20] Regardless of how many generations a person may have been here, Asians are often seen as the perpetual foreigner hell-bent on stealing jobs and taking over the country.[21]

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Introducing the MJR&L Volume 24 Executive Editorial Board

Congratulations to our
Volume 24 Executive Editorial Board!



Cleo Hernandez

Managing Editor

Gabriela Hybel

Managing Executive Editor

Morgan Birck

Production Editor

John Spangler

Executive Articles Editor

Shanene Frederick

Executive Notes Editor

Gloria Han

Online Publications Editor

David Bergh

Race & Curriculum Editor

Allison Horwitz

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Undoing Past Wrongs: Chipping Away at Capital Punishment

By Hira Baig
Associate Editor, Volume 23


The vast majority of countries, 140 to be exact, consider the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment.[1]  The current constitution of Germany, for example, forbids use of capital punishment.[2] Lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson comments on this policy choice by suggesting there is a connection between Germany’s consciousness of its history and its refusal to use the death penalty.[3] It would be harrowing, after all, for the German government to have a criminal punishment that facilitates the state-sanctioned killing of people after the Holocaust.

America, on the other hand, turns a blind eye to its history. Celebrating civil rights leaders and electing a black president does not rid this country of its past sins—especially if those sins are manifesting today in different form.

The grave inequality between the races was embedded into our Constitution and our laws. While the Constitution created a form of government for “the people,” it was used for over a century to uphold slavery. Once formal slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, the Constitution was used to justify discriminatory treatment, Jim Crow, and today, it is used to embolden our system of mass incarceration.

The Constitution also upholds use of the death penalty.[4] The killing of mostly black men is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which ought to protect people from cruel and unusual punishment.[5] And in southern states, black defendants are 22 times more likely to get the death penalty if the alleged victim is white.[6]

In my home-state of Texas, juries can still sentence mentally ill offenders to death. Texas has one of the busiest death rows in the country, and recently, a lawmaker filed a bill that might curtail use of this punishment.[7] This bill limits the maximum punishment for mentally ill people to life in prison without parole. Mitigating use of the death penalty ought to be considered a valiant effort. After all, Texas uses the death penalty more than any other state.[8]

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Clearing the Smoke: Marijuana Reform is a Racial Justice Issue

By David Bergh
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Over the past few decades there has been a sea change in the American public’s attitude towards marijuana prohibition. In 1990 only 16% of the US public supported legalization, and 81% were opposed. Twenty seven years later the numbers were 61% in favor of legalization and 37% against.[1] This tectonic shift in opinion is reflected in the fact that there are now 29 states, including Michigan, with medical marijuana programs.[2] Additionally, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.[3] Michigan looks set to join the recreational club this November, as the Michigan Marijuana Legalization Initiative is all but certain to appear on ballots for the 2018 election.[4] The ballot initiative proposes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for persons 21 and older. Those wishing to sell or produce recreational marijuana will need to obtain a license from the state, and local governments will be able to decide if they want to allow recreational marijuana business within their borders.[5] While the passage of the Michigan Marijuana Legalization Initiative would be a step forward towards addressing the racially disparate impact of the War on Drugs, the proposed Act is no panacea.

The movement toward legalization and the public’s growing acceptance of marijuana has thrown the racialized impact of the War on Drugs into sharp relief. On one hand the New York Times trumpets the investment opportunities that the legalization movement has created,[6] and white millennials flock to “ganja yoga” classes in San Francisco.[7] On the other hand Black Americans continue to bear the brunt of drug enforcement, with a police raid on a birthday party in Georgia that led to the arrest of 63 people for less than an ounce of marijuana being only the most recent and widely reported example.[8] So far, neither the nation’s changing marijuana laws, or the shift in public opinion have had a positive effect on the War on Drugs. Marijuana arrests rose in absolute terms from 2000 to 2013, and Blacks are still nearly four times to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite nearly identical rates of usage.[9] This disparity in the treatment of marijuana use is particularly severe in some parts of Michigan, with Black residents of Monroe, St. Clair and Jackson counties being 15 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white peers.[10] This reflects the fact that Michigan’s prison population is majority-minority, despite non-Hispanic whites accounting for more than 75% of the state’s population.[11] Even discounting a jail sentence, the effects of a marijuana arrest can be serious and long-lasting. Having a possession arrest on your record can affect custodial rights, public benefits, financial aid for college, and employment prospects, as having any criminal record, even for a minor drug arrest, cuts a job applicant’s chances of getting a call-back in half.[12]

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Without My Consent: The Eradication of Protective Consent Decrees

By Rasheed Stewart
Associate Editor, Volume 23

The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, passed following the publicly videotaped 1991 beating of African American motorist Rodney King by four LAPD officers and the catastrophic Los Angeles Riots a year later, gave the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice an extraordinary mandate.[1]  One of the law’s provisions empowered the government to sue police agencies anywhere in the country if they exhibited a “pattern and practice” of using excessive force and/or violating people’s civil rights, and to compel them, under a court enforced agreement known as a “consent decree,” to change those practices.[2] Communities in favor of consent decrees, like the city of New Orleans, have found that federal oversight of police practices result in a significant decrease in use of force incidents, due to a more thorough review process.[3]  However, not all are in favor of these court-enforced agreements; for example, conservative public officials have routinely criticized consent decrees as being ineffective.[4]  Conversely, studies have shown that fewer civil rights lawsuits are brought against state actors within jurisdictions enjoined under a consent decree, compared to the time period when the same jurisdiction was not under a court ordered decree.[5]


Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Despite supporting empirical evidence that consent decrees serve as constructive judicial tools,[6] U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, presumably under the direction of President Trump, has sought to review (or eradicate) all existing consent decrees.[7]  Sessions, in a press release announcing significant changes to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, stated that control needed to be “returned to the public safety personnel sworn to protect the communities they police.”[8]  In absolute contrast is the community of Baltimore, and more specifically the parents of Freddy Grey,[9] who would not want to end federal oversight of a police department riddled with instances of systemic racial practices that severely, and fatally, harm people of color.[10]  Further, the people of Ferguson and parents of Michael Brown would not care to be subjected to unwarranted fines and sicced dogs, among other blatantly discriminatory practices in lieu of ‘watchdog’ federal overseers.[11]

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Can They Do That? (Part 2): End Sanctuary Cities

By John Spangler
Associate Editor, Volume 23

It is not just the long election cycle that is a defining feature of Michigan politics today, but also the impact of term limits on who seeks what office.  The current incumbent is forced out by that constitutional measure, and the candidate to replace him is himself subject to the term limits placed on the state House of Representatives.  As part of our continuing series, Can They Do That?, today we examine a signature issue from the campaign of Tom Leonard.


Michigan Speaker Tom Leonard has announced his bid for Michigan Attorney General ahead of the Nov. 2018 elections.

Speaker Leonard is currently in charge of Michigan’s lower legislative body.[1]  He was first elected to represent the 93rd District in 2012,[2] and as a result is ineligible to run again.[3]  In keeping with the “up or out” ethos created by these term limits, Speaker Leonard is seeking the office of Attorney General, citing his previous experience as a Genesee County prosecutor and assistant state attorney general during Mike Cox’s tenure.[4] Public safety is a core part of his new campaign, including a promise to “end sanctuary cities”.[5]

So, if elected Michigan Attorney General, can he do that?  Well, that depends on a number of factors, not least of which is what Speaker Leonard means by “sanctuary city” and by “end”.  The most common definition of “sanctuary city” is a city or municipality that has, by rule or ordinance, limited what local law enforcement can do to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against those with immigration violations.[6]  Even within this definition there can be a lot of variety, with cities such as San Francisco that prohibit cooperation with ICE while using city resources,[7] as well as communities like Chester County, Virginia, that simply refuse to automatically detain suspected immigrants.[8]

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The Color of Terrorism

By Rasheed Stewart
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Concertgoers in Las Vegas, NV flee the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in American history (2017).

On October 1, 2017, a 64-year-old white American male opened fire on thousands of concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada.[1]  Over 58 innocent people were murdered and 546 more were injured, instantly making it the deadliest shooting in modern American history.[2]  Under Nevada law, terrorism is defined as, “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”[3]  Seemingly, this senseless act of tragic violence consisted of the exact elements Nevada lawmakers intended to criminalize when they created the statute.  Undoubtedly, the facts of the Vegas mass shooting should constitute terrorism under the definition of the Nevada statute; however, national media outlets have been quick to opine their own reasoning for why the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. modern history should not be considered ‘terrorism.’[4]

The myriad of reasons they suggest include the contrariness of the Vegas shooting with Oxford’s definition of ‘terrorism,’ of which requires a political aim.[5]  Other explanations focus on the FBI’s definition requiring a political objective.[6] Superficially, the media continues to disseminate implicitly biased conclusions to the general population. In turn, these conclusions excuse significantly violent acts caused by white American males, not Islamic State fighters, and condone them as mass shootings, not terrorism. Why? Doubtless, the answer will not appear in the definition of terrorism; nonetheless, there is an unwritten, implicit understanding that the color of ‘terrorism’ is, and always will be, non-white.

To further this conclusion, one must look at other examples of similar incidents, and analyze if this claim holds true. On November 5, 2017, a 26-year-old white American male armed with an assault rifle, shot and killed 26 community members, including a child as young as 18 months while they worshipped inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.[7]  No motive had been revealed as the investigation proceeded; however, President Trump, like the various U.S. media outlets that effectively continue to control the narrative, tweeted his reasoning for why this occurred by stating the incident was a, “mental health problem of the highest degree,” and not a “guns situation.” [8]  Even after a man intentionally walked into a house of worship, and committed the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history,[9] there was not a single utterance of the word ‘terrorism’ or even an act of ‘terror’ that could be found.  Of course, President Trump has conceivably memorized the FBI definition for terrorism and refrained from calling the murderer a terrorist because there was no ‘political aim’ present, right? Wrong.

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How Should the United Nations Intervene in Libya’s African Migrant Crisis?

By Shanene Frederick
Associate Editor, Volume 23


In recent months, increasing media attention has been devoted to the plight of African migrants leaving their home countries in the hopes of reaching Europe.[1] These migrants often give money saved up for the journey to smugglers in Libya, who put them in boats that sail across the Mediterranean, without regard for the migrants’ lives or well-being.[2] Often times, these migrants die during the trips and their bodies wash ashore.[3] As Libya has begun to tighten up security along its coast, reports of smugglers selling African migrants off into slavery have surfaced.[4] What action should be taken in order to help these people of color from death and/or exploitation?

One intuitive solution would be the involvement of the United Nations (UN), which is arguably the world’s most influential, powerful, and well-known international organization. The United Nations’ primary goals include maintaining international peace and security and achieving international cooperation in solving international problems.[5] The UN has a wide range of tools in its arsenal that may be used to meet those goals. For example, the UN Security Council has the power vested by the UN Charter to trigger a wide range of obligations binding on the countries of the world.[6] Take the various economic sanctions imposed on North Korea[7] for its testing of nuclear weapons for example, or the sanctions imposed on individuals suspected of supporting terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.[8] The UN has even engaged in quasi-colonialism, acting as the administrator of territories like East Timor[9] and Kosovo.[10]

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Restoring Democracy in Michigan

By David Bergh
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Protestors gather in Detroit in 2013 to speak out against Michigan’s use of Emergency Managers.

In the wake of the economic destruction wrought by the Great Recession of 2008, many Michigan municipalities fell into dire financial straits.[1] Faced with cities that were sliding into insolvency, the Michigan Legislature passed so-called “emergency manager laws,” in the hope that, by putting the municipality’s finances in the hands of an outside expert, disaster could be averted.[2] Michigan’s existing emergency manager statute was deemed too weak, so the Legislature passed Public Act 4, which was signed by Governor Snyder and went into effect in March 2011.[3] Public Act 4 allowed the State to appoint emergency managers for cities or school districts, and gave them broad power over all financial decisions.[4] This power was then augmented by the passage of Public Act 436, which went into effect in March 2013.[5] Public Act 436, which was given the Orwellian title “Local Financial Stability and Choice Act,” empowered emergency managers to control virtually all aspects of local governance, essentially ending democracy at the local level.[6]

Since the first new Emergency Manager Law took effect in 2012, eight cities and three school districts have been brought under state control.[7] The cities brought under state control, which include Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Hamtramck, share the common theme of being majority minority.[8] The impact of the Emergency Manager Law on minority communities was so severe, that in 2013 more than half of Michigan’s African American population lived in cities under the control of unelected bureaucrats.[9]

Racism has a long history in Michigan – from the KKK nearly getting their candidate elected mayor of Detroit, to the now forgotten 1943 Race Riot during which white mobs, enraged by the presence of black people on Belle Isle, roamed the streets of Detroit unhindered by the police, resulting in the deaths of 24 African Americans.[10] This history is not consigned to the past – cross burnings have occurred in the Detroit area as recently as 2005.[11] Given this history of white supremacy in Michigan, the apparent indifference towards the political rights of black citizens is more than troubling.[12] It is also worth noting that narratives of “financial mismanagement” are false. While local officials deserve some blame for the situation in their cities, the State has been aggressively cutting back on revenue shared with municipalities since 2002.[13] Combined with the impact of the Great Recession, this meant that less affluent communities were simultaneously squeezed by falling tax revenue and declining contributions from the State.[14]

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