Not-marchers on the march

nobloodforoilSo, I don’t march.

I stayed home when millions protested the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Stayed home for “No Blood for Oil” too (though I did have the T-shirt, at left). Avoided the streets of my Paris sabbatical home on May Day 2002, when half a million marched to the chants of “Là-Bas Le Pen.”

Pretty much avoided all public demonstrations since childhood, never having really seen the point of taking to the streets instead of concrete action – that is, instead of litigating/teaching/reasoning/writing/policymaking toward lasting solutions.

So why march today?

► Because the promise of the election of Barack Obama – hands down, the best President of my lifetime – so soon was dashed by never-believed yet oft-repeated undercuttings of his citizenship. The spurious claims and the events that ensued sunk the hope that had lifted many of us in 2007 and 2008. Fell particularly hard on those of us who are immigrants, or who count immigrants among our loved ones.

aliceroom3Because in the last years we’ve been forced to swallow bile: cruel falsehoods about the 1st woman to be nominated by a major U.S. political party; harsh slaps against everyone who has endured sexual assault; soulless insults about every disadvantaged group imaginable.

► Because Looking-Glass intrigue belongs to the fantasy world of Lewis Carroll, not to the real world in which we all must live.

Because aspirations to human dignity, equality, liberty, and justice, without borders, will not withstand anti-“globalist” attack unless those of us who hold these values dear come to their defense.

Because if we fail to object, we fail our children.

To quote other ‘Grrls:

“It seems like a day when numbers matter.”

“I couldn’t not go.”

And so even we not-marchers march, in D.C., in Philadelphia, and, at last count, in nearly 700 other places around the world.

march
(Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls)

Flashback to pre-Iowa 2008: “Why this IntLawGrrl’s for Obama for President”

With the President delivering his final State of the Union address as I write these lines, I couldn’t help but have a look at my own very early endorsement of and pledge to work for (as a member of his campaign’s Human Rights Policy Committee) then-Senator Barack Obama. It holds up pretty well 8 years later, even if not everything turned out as, well, hoped. Here, once again, is my Jan. 3, 2008, IntLawGrrls post:

(An Iowa Caucus Day item) Soon after the 2d inauguration of George W. Bush, whose Presidency already had been marked by abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, by the folly of the Iraq invasion, and by the failure to incapacitate Osama bin Laden, I began to prepare for the next election cycle. 
My road to 2008 began on the freeway, listening to politicians read aloud the books in which they endeavored to tell their own stories in their own words. My Life, the memoir by Bush’s immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton, filled in some details about a man who in the 1990s had dominated current events. In Living History his wife, Hillary Clinton, read her precise account of those same times. The works left me appreciative yet disengaged.
Then, on a colleague’s recommendation, I listened to Barack Obama read Dreams from My Father, the “story of race and inheritance” he’d written a decade earlier. The last thing I expected to discover were things in common. And yet here was someone who’d also moved about as a child, been raised at times by grandparents. Who’d also witnessed Harold Washington’s milestone mayoral election while working in Chicago — who’d worked a few years before moving on to law school, then to law teaching. Whose family ties put him in close contact with newcomers to America and with relatives overseas. (Yesterday, in the Voice of America interview here, Obama urged political rivals in Kenya, his father’s homeland, to “address peacefully the controversies that divide them.”) A progressive Illinoisan who preferred consensus to conflict.
His campaign’s followed lines sketched in Dreams and detailed in his 2d book, The Audacity of Hope. The operative word remains “hope” — discussed by means not of doe-eyed promises of the impossible, but of substantive policy prescriptions. There’s a focus on building a movement, one that underscores the significance of a fact seldom studied despite the reams of copy written about Obama: This is someone whose sensibilities were shaped by years of organizing poor people in job-starved communities, a real world experience that all politicians could use but few have. The campaign’s unabashed reaching across the aisle, moreover, comes as a relief to all exhausted by the pitched political battles of the recent past.
And then there’s Obama’s foreign policy.
This is a candidate who fears not to speak with favor of the United Nations and other international bodies. Who speaks of the essential need for the United States not simply to demand from its allies, but rather to earn from them, respect and assistance. Who understands “security” to mean more than military might. A candidate who persists in a plan to meet personally with world leaders of all political persuasion, to cut in on diplomatic dances of avoidance that sometimes extend distance between cultures.
Not least is Obama’s denunciation of Guantánamo and all it stands for: indefinitedetention for purposes of interrogation, abandonment of habeas corpus, cruelty and torture. It’s unequivocal and delivered to all audiences.
Aiding Obama are scores of foreign policy experts and international lawyers. They include many noted and respected women, among them: Pulitzer Prizewinning Harvard ProfessorSamantha Power; Patricia Wald, former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District ofColumbia Circuit and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and Dr. Susan E. Rice, formerly assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs.
It may seem odd that someone who’s spent nearly a year blogging the achievements of the world’s women leaders is working for this candidate. Would I welcome as President a woman who’s made her own way, who stands on her own feet, who promises to bring the best to the job? Certainly. I’ll embrace that candidate, when she emerges.
Now, though, this IntLawGrrl’s honored to be doing her wee bit for Barack Obama, the human who pushes people to “Change the World.”

Thanks to BASIL, a remembrance of Society’s 1st African American president

fergusonCHICAGO – Within the rich program of the just-concluded American Society of International Law Midyear Meeting was a discovery. A discovery for me, at least, regarding an important milestone in ASIL’s century-plus history.

I have written before about women who blazed trails in the Society since its founding in 1906. Among several notables is Dr. Alona Evans, the Wellesley political science professor (and mentor of then-student Hillary Rodham) who was elected ASIL’s first woman president in 1980. Evans, who died in office the same year, would be followed by other women: Georgetown Law professor Edith Brown Weiss (1994-1996) Anne-Marie Slaughter (2002-2004), now president of the New America thinktank, Freshfields partner Lucy Reed (2008-2010), and, since the spring of this year, Columbia Law Professor Lori Fisler Damrosch.

I’ve also written about Goler Teal Butcher, Howard Law professor, U.S. State Department diplomat, and Amnesty International activist. Butcher, an African American woman, was friend, mentor, and inspiration to many; indeed, the Society named its human rights medal after her. (See here and here.)

I have not written about the Society’s first (and only) African American president, however. There is a simple reason for that omission: though I have seen the full list of past ASIL presidents, I did not learn until this ASIL’s Midyear that one of them, C. Clyde Ferguson Jr., was a person of African American heritage. He is pictured at top; photo credit.

Credit for my discovery belongs to Blacks in the American Society of International Law – BASIL – a task force that held its formative session at the Chicago meeting. The first component of President Damrosch’s inclusion initiative, BASIL is designed to affirm and expand the tradition of black international lawyers, jurists and academics in the United States. It is co-chaired by ASIL Honorary President Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, whose career includes service as a judge on the U.S. District Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, along with Adrien K. Wing, the Bessie Dutton Murray Professor of Law at the University of Iowa. I’m honored to serve as a member of this task force, along with Elizabeth “Betsy” Andersen, Angela Banks, Bartram Brown, Donald Francis Donovan, Jeremy Levitt, Makau Mutua, Natalie Reid, Henry Richardson, and Edith Brown Weiss.

As preparation for our inaugural session, BASIL co-chairs distributed, among other things, a 1994 essay written in memory of Ferguson. Born to a pastor’s family during the Depression, he was barred from attending college in his home state on account of race. Ferguson was graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and hired as that school’s first African American law professor – for a long time, according to the essay, he was Harvard Law’s “only full-time minority professor.” A human rights scholar, activist, and diplomat, Ferguson served inter alia as dean of Howard University School of Law and as U.S. Ambassador to Uganda. Professor Butcher and he frequently collaborated on issues related to southern Africa.

Elected ASIL’s president in 1978, Ferguson was succeeded two years later by Professor Evans. The fact that the Society chose two pathbreaking leaders in a row is noteworthy. Indeed, it calls out for a legal historian to asil_logoplumb this pivotal moment in ASIL’s history. One hopes that BASIL, alone or in conjunction with WILIG, the Society’s Women in International Law Interest Group, will answer that call.

“Ferguson”: Caitlyn Clark’s poem to America, at John Legend concert

Stunned to listen to this poem by Caitlyn Clark, recited on stage at a John Legend’s Hollywood Bowl concert 2 days ago. It’s moving, heartfelt, raw, and real. She wants to make revolution not with the children who have been felled but with those who still live and can bring change to our troubled times. And, I am most proud to say, she is my cousin, daughter of my favorite first cousin, who, as she tells the world in this amazing video, did 6 months’ active duty at Bagram Prison, Afghanistan. ¡Brava, Caitlyn!

At Georgia Law, Justice Stevens takes on Scarlett O’Hara view of Civil War aftermath

john-paul-stevens2Margaret Mitchell got the Reconstruction Era all wrong. So said Justice John Paul Stevens in an address to the University of Georgia School of Law, the highlight of today’s Georgia Law Review symposium. Stevens, who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, at age 93, spoke here in Athens at the university’s Chapel, used during the Civil War as a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers – and afterward, as quarters for “Federal occupation troops.”

Stevens recalled a day in December 1939 when, as a junior in college, he and his family of Chicagoans watched the newly released adaptation of Mitchell’s epic “Gone With the Wind” from the balcony of an Atlanta theater. It was, as is well known, a Civil War story told from the perspective of a petulant, pampered, proslavery heroine, Scarlett O’Hara (below). (photo credits here and here) Stevens said that when the movie screen depicted Atlanta ablaze as a result of Union General William T. Sherman’s onslaught, the emotion of the assembled Georgians was intense. He reported:

scarlett‘I was afraid even to whisper a comment lest my accent reveal the fact that Yankees were in the audience.’

Stevens used the anecdote to introduce “Originalism and History,” the theme of his address. Resuming a refutation of originalism he had launched in 1985, in  response to a speech by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese (as I wrote in a Northwestern University Law Review article last year), Stevens stressed that “history is at best an inexact field of study, particularly when applied by judges.” For this reason, “the doctrine of original intent may identify a floor that includes some of the rule’s coverage, but it is never a sufficient basis for defining the ceiling.”

Atlanta-born Margaret Mitchell‘s version of the Civil War and its aftermath – a version that “influenced the thinking of millions of readers” – evinced sympathy for the antebellum South and hostility toward Reconstruction, Stevens said. Mitchell called the Reconstruction Republicans who controlled Georgia immediately after the war “incompetent and corrupt.” Stevens offered contrary evidence: the Reconstructionist governor reviled by Mitchell was acquitted of such charges and went on to become one of Atlanta’s leading figures, while the gubernatorial opponent whom Mitchell extolled is now believed to have been a leader in the state’s Ku Klux Klan. Uncertainty regarding that allegation served to underscore Stevens’ concern respecting judicial overuse of history:

‘The fact that the Klan’s activities were shrouded in so much secrecy has not only prevented historians from positively confirming that identification, but also explains why ambiguity characterizes so many important historical events.’

Another such event was the 1876 Presidential contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. As he had in an August essay that the New York Review of Books titled “The Court & the Right to Vote: A Dissent,” Stevens pointed to the post-election withdrawal from the South of federal troops as a pivotal moment in American history. That moment might not have occurred, or might be viewed quite differently, absent a “‘reign of terror'” that suppressed the Southern Republican electorate, white and black alike. (Stevens drew the quoted phrase from a dispatch reprinted by his former colleague, William H. Rehnquist, in Centennial Crisis (2005).)

Today’s talk then moved beyond the Reconstruction Era, encompassing jurisprudential topics as varied as the Constitution’s religion clauses, the incorporation doctrine, the desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and political gerrymandering. Discussed was the 2d Amendment right announced not long ago by a majority of the Court, as well as a same-sex sexual harassment judgment written by Stevens’ longtime sparring partner, Justice Antonin Scalia. Each example was deployed to drive home Stevens’ central point, regarding what he calls the sovereign’s duty to govern impartially: History is relevant but not dispositive. No less important to a judge construing terms like “equal protection” and “due process of law” is the contemporary social meaning of those constitutional phrases.