Two views on racism

Kendi-How to be an antiracist

When we say that racism is systemic, it is to say that it is so embedded into our culture that we aren’t aware that it is there.  That is how Ibram X. Kendi starts off his book, How to be an Antiracist.  In the forward, he describes how his self-doubt and confidence was so low that he had only applied to two colleges so he’d only have to deal with two rejection letters.  (He was accepted by both.)  Later, as he looked back at his life, he wondered if he should have taken more history classes and paid more attention when he was growing up.   One moment stands out:  He recalls with chagrin that he was a young, Black, high school student presenting at a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech contest.  The irony of the moment was that he was representing his high school that was named after General Stonewall Jackson, legendary Confederate General.

Kendi combines personal stories, historic events, and snippets from well-known authors to illustrate the point that it isn’t enough to not be a racist:  One must strive to be an anti-racist.  He explains:

What’s the problem with being “not racist”?  It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.”  But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle.  The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.”  It is “antiracist.”

As Kendi goes through different chapters of the book, he shows how racism is embedded into all facets of our culture.  Assumptions and judgments about people who are not like ourselves are part of everyone’s identity, he writes, even his own.  In a chapter on sexuality, he confronts his own assumptions he had about gay men when he discovered his best friend’s behavior didn’t match the stereotypical gay male behaviors he had learned and expected.  To save his friendship, he vowed to change.

This book is compelling because of the deft way Kendi weaves his personal stories and revelations with historical references and current events.  Yet, in spite of all the ways racism is discussed in the book, it ends optimistically.  In discovering that he had stage 4 colon cancer, he quickly sees the parallel to systemic racism today:

I have cancer.  The most serious stage.  Cancer is likely to kill me.  I can survive cancer against all odds.

My society has racism.  The most serious stage.  Racism is likely to kill my society.  My society can survive cancer against all odds. 

Aggressive treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, all were used and yes, he did survive.  He had the help and support of surgeons, pathologists, and his family.  He asks, “What if we treated racism like we do cancer?”  The lesson is that there isn’t one method to combat racism.  Ending racism isn’t just one person’s fight; everyone must contribute to the effort.   And if you are going to fight racism, you can’t just not be a racist.  Don’t be neutral, be an antiracist.

Coates-Between the world and me

In contrast, Ta-Nehisi Coates work, Between the World and Me, is a deeply personal letter to his teen-aged son.  In this narrative, Coates addresses the reality of being a Black man in the United States.  This book is grim, as he describes his fear and anger growing up in Baltimore and then going to college at Howard.  Much of the book shares his personal history and experiences, while it also reveals his anger and frustration of current events.  He is particularly angry at the persistent murders of so many Black men at the hands of white police officers and other white men for no reason other than they were wearing a hoodie or playing loud music.

The fear and suspicion that he internalized stayed with him and popped up unexpectedly years later during a trip to Paris.  He was walking down the streets after dinner because a new friend wanted to “show him an old building,” and in the back of his mind, he wasn’t sure if this really was an innocuous walk or if he was being led to an ambush in a quiet alley.  But this friend just showed him the historic building, shook his hand, and said good night.

Coates’ letter to his son has a similar theme to Kendi’s book – racism is embedded into American culture.  But in contrast, Coates’ message is for his son, and for other Black readers:  You might not be able to eliminate the racism of others.  It is their struggle, and ultimately others will have to make the change within themselves.  He tells his son that he needs to remember his history, culture, and experiences:

You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.  … I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.

Both books are available at the Ramsey County Law Library.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist, New York: One World, 2019.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, New York: One World, 2015.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Truth

goodtimeforthetruth-whitefragility

 

During July and August, the law library blog will feature titles on racism and racial equality.   These provocative and informative books reflect the challenges we all face.  They also describe perspectives and opportunities for change—and not necessarily through the court system.    Library users may check the books out by visiting the law library on the 18th floor of the court house.

This week’s blog features the titles shown above.

A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota (2016) is edited by Sun Yung Shin.  The book is the current selection of the Minnesota Center for the Book’s Statewide One Book One Minnesota book club.  The book contains 16 essays that give perspectives on Native persons as well as persons of color in Minnesota.  In the essay “Fear of a Black Mother,” author Shannon Gibney explains her struggles trying to explain American societal challenges to both her young son and her Liberian husband—and her fears about an increasingly dangerous path for people of color.   In the essay “Disparate Impacts,” by Taiyon J. Coleman, the author, who was raised in Chicago, offers her perceptions about microaggressions and microabrasions in Minnesota academia.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk About Racism (2018) is written by Robin Diangelo, a white woman described in the foreword as “the new racial sheriff in town.”  Diangelo explains that the way racism is taught makes it virtually impossible for white people to understand it.  The white worldview is simplistic and fails to perceive how racism evolves individually and in the community.  Fragility, according to Diangelo, arises when white people are challenged about racism—generating feelings of discomfort and defensiveness.  The result is a person’s lack of insight or advancement.  Fragility also stems from an unconscious protection of white solidarity.  The result is a position that exempts a person from any responsibility for or participation in the problem.  Diangelo advocates exploring alternate racial experiences to challenge racism and to loosen white protection.  On a hopeful note, she states that the effect of white responses can be powerful if they interrupt racism through courage and intentionality.

The two books are available for loan.  The library invites comments or suggestions for other similar book titles.

 

 
This photo of the U.S. Supreme Court was taken by Thomas Hawk in 2014.

The U.S. Supreme Court.

In the recent landmark decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that existing civil rights law protects gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination.  In short, an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.

Bostock, along with Altitude Express, Inc., et al. v. Zarda et al., as Co-Independent Executors of the Estate of Zarda, and R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al., was brought before the Supreme Court because of a split in the Courts of Appeal.  The Seventh and Second Circuits held that Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Moreover, the Sixth Circuit agreed with the EEOC that Title VII protections also applied to transgender persons, too.  On the other hand, the Appellate Court in Bostock followed precedent set by an earlier case in the Eleventh Circuit that held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII.  The three cases were consolidated and heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall of 2019.  The opinion, which was delivered on Monday, June 15, 2020, was authored by Justice Gorsuch, and joined with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, filed a dissenting opinion, as did Justice Kavanaugh.

The opinion, though quite long, states the conclusion concisely at the start:

Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender.  The answer is clear.  An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.  Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.

If you want to read more about Title VII actions, the Ramsey County Law Library has a substantive employment law collection with several treatises focusing discrimination.  Representing Plaintiffs in Title VII Actions, Fifth Edition, by Robert E. McKnight, is a one-volume loose-leaf title that covers all aspects of litigating a Title VII case.  This title covers prohibited practices, such as disparate treatments, harassment, retaliation, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, and more.  It proceeds to explain pre-litigation charge filing, the litigation process, and remedies.

Another title that would be of interest is Employee Dismissal Law and Practice, Seventh Edition, by Hank Perritt, Jr.   This two-volume set covers these topics:  Employment at will, statutory protection against discrimination based on characteristic, discrimination based on conduct, procedural issues for statutory discrimination, downsizing, arbitration, contract theories, tort theories, special problems of public employment, proof and procedure, employer personnel problems, and wrongful dismissal legislation.  This title has an extensive look at the appellate decision in Zarda (mentioned above) as well Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998), which held that sexual harassment in the workplace between members of the same sex is prohibited under Title VII.  You can guarantee that both of titles will be updated soon to reflect the decision in Bostock!

In support of Pride Month, the Law Library is displaying a few titles that discuss and explain LGBT rights and the law.  We are expecting a few new books to come in soon, including a new book due in at the end of June titled Law and the Gay Rights Story: The Long Search for Equal Justice in a Divided Democracy.  We hope to see you in the Law Library soon.  Happy Pride Month!

 

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Although the law library is closed to the public, we still want to celebrate National Library Week with our annual book raffle. During our closure, volunteer attorneys continue to provide housing, conciliation, and criminal defense clinics via phone. As a small token of appreciation, the library raffled off 2 books–each going to one of our prize-winning volunteers. The library continues to provide email and phone reference and curbside book pickup for attorneys. Please call the library at 651-266-8391 for more information.

This year, we have two excellent books, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  Just Mercy is the memoir of Bryan Stevenson, civil rights attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in Montgomery, Alabama.  Mr. Stevenson has argued and won many cases, including a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that bans mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger.  His book was recently adapted into a major motion picture.

Astronuts  by Jon Scieszka is the second book in our giveaway.  Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca) is an award-winning children’s book author, and has sold over 11 million books worldwide.  Astronuts is the start of a new series for children, and is illustrated by Steven Weinberg.  Mr. Weinberg was inspired by the art made available by The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  The Rijksmuseum has digitized and made their entire collection available to the world with no copyright restrictions.

We hope you are all reading interesting books and are staying safe during this time.

 

 

 

 

March is Women’s History Month

Her Honor

 

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which legalized a woman’s right to vote.  In Minnesota, 1922 was the first year that women could run for office in the Minnesota legislature, and four of the eight women candidates who ran for office won.  In the book Her Honor:  Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement author Lori Sturdevant provides intriguing and interesting facts about the twentieth century women’s movement in Minnesota:

  • The Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association agitated for the full enfranchisement of women for forty years before achieving success.  The organization morphed into the Minnesota League of Women Voters.
  • Cornelia “Coya” Gjesdal Knutson—12 years Rosalie’s senior—was born on a farm in North Dakota.  Despite family struggles, she rose to political significance by financing her own campaign for election to the U.S. Congress, which she won in 1954, becoming the first woman in Minnesota to do so.  Sadly, her 1958 re-election bid failed due to false statements made about her family life and troubled marriage—attributed to her DFL colleagues and husband.  Coya Knutson was a victim of the inherent sexism of her time.
  • Rosalie Wahl went to law school by financing her own way; her family was well-established by then, and yet she gave birth to a fifth child while in law school.  Overcoming many obstacles, defeats, and triumphs, Rosalie became the first woman justice appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1977.  Her appointment came amidst Minnesota’s politically active feminists maneuvering for political office.
  • After her appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Justice Wahl “viewed her role as helping her colleagues see justice from the bottom up—that is, from the vantage not only of women, but also of disadvantaged people of all kinds, including those accused of serious crimes.”  In 1987, the “Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force for Gender Fairness in the Courts” was established; it was headed by Justice Wahl.
  • Justice Wahl retired from the supreme court on August 31, 1994.  She involved herself in community service, including leadership training for young women.  She lived to see more women take on leadership roles in Minnesota: Kathleen Blatz was elevated to first woman Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court; Amy Klobuchar was elected Minnesota’s first woman U.S. Senator; and DFLer Betty McCollum was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since voters sent representative Coya Knutson home in 1958.

Her Honor:  Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement is available for check-out from the Ramsey County Law Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If anyone sees the new Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman,” they will find an answer to one of the greatest missing person questions of all time: “What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?”  The film revisits one of the most corrupt periods in labor union history.  In 1967, Hoffa, who was president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), was targeted by U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and he received a jail sentence (or “going to school” in felon parlance) for numerous offenses.

hoffa

Hoffa’s misdeeds included misuse of pension funds, racketeering, bribery, jury tampering, and mail and wire fraud.  His actions epitomized an era of organized crime culminating in the government’s response in 1970 with passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.  Hoffa’s political ambitions for regaining the IBT presidency are what got him killed, according to the film.  It appears this conclusion is likely but still debatable.

The IBT after Hoffa fared poorly, as far as government scrutiny is concerned. Probably the most important Civil/Rico labor racketeering case in history happened in 1988/89 in U.S. v. IBT when the federal government seized temporary operational control of the Teamster’s Union under a consent decree to settle racketeering and corruption charges.  The legal action was brought by none other than Rudy Giuliani, who was then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  Court supervision of the Teamster’s ended in 2015 with a 5-year phase out agreement that should end this year.

The term “white collar crime” was coined by Edwin Sutherland in a 1939 speech to the American Sociological Association. In the past decade, white collar crime included corporate and/or government sector offenses such as bank, securities, and tax fraud, commodities and health care fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and bribery. These exploits are certain to continue, with the additional appearances of obstruction of justice and election fraud crimes on the horizon.

The 6-volume title White Collar Crime owned by the law library is available in both print and online formats, provided by Thomson Reuters. The book covers all the topics mentioned here (and more), and it provides strategies for both the prosecution and defense, trial and evidentiary issues, ethics, attorneys fees, sentencing, and sample materials.  You can view the table of contents for this title via this link.  Better yet, come visit us in the law library and come use the book in person.

White Collar Crime

 

Addicted Lawyer

The Addicted Lawyer by Brian Cuban offers a personal expose about one attorney’s struggles with addiction.  Cuban describes the “secret life of Brian” which prevailed for too many years and prevented him from seeking help for his drinking/drug problems.  At a recent Ramsey County Bar CLE book talk on Cuban’s story, David Schultz (Hamline U. Professor of Political Science and U of M Professor of Law) led a   discussion about causes for addiction among lawyers.  He also remarked that the younger generation of lawyers is much smarter than their elder colleagues because they seek help.

This book explains what addiction looks like in the legal profession with its many stressors, causing lawyers to experience higher levels of anxiety, depression and problem drinking than in the general population.  In addition to Cuban’s excellent book, recent resources include the following:

  1. Cuban’s book references a landmark study that examined the high incidence of addiction among attorneys,   The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys  Krill, Patrick R. JD, LLM; Johnson, Ryan MA; Albert, Linda MSSW), Journal of Addiction Medicine: January/February 2016 – Volume 10 – Issue 1 – p 46–52.  This study was conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs; it confirmed “a substantial level of behavioral health problems among attorneys and revealed cause for great public concern.” (p. viii)
  2. The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change (2017) is the result of a study by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.  It found that between 21 and 36 percent of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers.  The study concluded that collectively, small steps can lead to transformative change, especially in a demanding profession.  It also focuses on ways to facilitate, destigmatize, and encourage help-seeking behaviors.
  3. At the highest level, Minnesota’s legal community has provided a response to the addiction problem among attorneys with the 2019 “Call to Action” summit hosted by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The summit presented plans for various legal entities—In-House Counsel, Large Law Firms, Public Lawyers, and Solo and Small Firms.
  4. For immediate assistance or for a confidential discussion about substance abuse and/or mental health concerns, Minnesota is fortunate to have Lawyers Concern for Lawyers (LCL).  They can be reached at 651-646-5590 or 1-866-525-6466.

At the conclusion of the CLE/talk about Cuban’s book, one young attorney shared with the group his struggles with addiction. He highlighted the fact that he was able to reach out to others in his firm with very positive results. The attorney continued in his job, has achieved sobriety, and is thankful for the ongoing support the firm provides.

The Addicted Lawyer is available for loan from the Ramsey County Law Library.

CalltoAction

 

Into the Judge’s Chamber

Cover photo of "Tough Cases"

 

Looking for an excellent new book that zooms in on judicial thinking and real world legal issues? Here’s a title you can sit back and enjoy over the holidays—or give to someone as a worthwhile gift—a new collection of essays on important legal cases written by the judges themselves:

Tough Cases: Judges Tell the Stories of Some of the Hardest Decisions They’ve Ever Made

The list of authors includes two from Minnesota. Judge Gail Chang Bohr writes “A Judge’s Hidden Struggle: Overcoming Judicial Culture” regarding a difficult child custody case. Judge Edward S. Wilson writes about his experience with the United Nations mission in Kosovo where he spent a year helping to build and dispense justice in a region torn by violence, war crimes, homicide, and organized crime. Both authors are retired Ramsey County judges.

The book contains thirteen personal essays, and some cover more well-known cases such as Terri Schiavo, Elian Gonzalez, and Scooter Libby. The judicial authors weave together substantive and procedural issues and embellish their storytelling with commentary, analysis, and insights about the parties involved.

All essays are fascinating to read, they describe what judges wrestle with, and they give an idea of the personal impact on the judges themselves.

The book is edited by Russell Canan, Gregory Mize, and Frederick Weisberg and is published by The New Press. The law library has a copy; or you can purchase the book on Amazon for just over $16.00.

Whether you make this a special gift for yourself or someone else, the reader will come away with genuine revelations, a better perspective, and satisfaction with time well spent.

 

Keeping Up with Immigration Law

immigration

 

Many attorneys are aware of the important immigration case Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (559 U.S. 356, 2010) which decided that a criminal defense attorney must advise a noncitizen client about deportation risks should the client negotiate a guilty plea.  The consequences of criminal activity are many and complex.  The book Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activity: A Guide to Representing Foreign-Born Defendants by Mary Kramer provides detailed analysis and resources for assisting noncitizens charged with crimes.  The book regularly references two legal sources: The Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC Chapter 12) and the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 8).  Kramer details removal, detention, and deportability circumstances; she also discusses how to fashion a plea to avoid adverse consequences, including visa options for cooperating witnesses.  The section on immigration defense describes waivers and other available relief.

The Waivers Book: Advanced Issues in Immigration Law Practice provides attorneys with exceptions to the rules regarding inadmissibility and removability.  It introduces waivers—from A to Z—and includes waivers for refugees and asylees, and waivers related to unlawful presence.

These two books, as well as the following immigration titles Asylum Primer (2015), Business Immigration: Law & Practice (2017), and Litigating Immigration Cases in Federal Court (2017), were recently added to the law library collection.

 

Happy Law Day!

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Thomas Jefferson called the distribution of power “the first principle of good government.”   More than 225 years later, Hilarie Bass, ABA President wrote, “The phrase “separation of powers” does not appear anywhere in the text of the U.S. Constitution, yet it is likely one of the most important concepts in understanding how the U.S. government is designed to defend the liberties that Americans had fought the Revolutionary War to achieve.”

And today, we celebrate this year’s Law Day Theme, Separation of Powers.

What can you do to celebrate with us?  Here in Ramsey County, the Law Library and the Ramsey County Bar Association will be hosting a CLE on May 3 featuring Hamline Professor David Schultz, who will be presenting, “The Court, the Constitution and Separation of Powers in American Law and Politics.”  Profession Schultz will be addressing why the framers wanted separation of powers along with other concepts, such as checks and balances, to be a feature of American law and politics.  The CLE is at noon, and will be held in Room 40 (in the lower level of the Courthouse), and is free to the general public and Ramsey County Bar Association members.  CLE credit is available.

If you have never been to the Courthouse, one-hour courthouse tours will be available on May 3 at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.  Reservations are not required.  All tours will meet at the base of the Vision of Peace statue. Tours are courtesy of the Ramsey County Historical Society.

More Law Day Resources:

The Ramsey County Law Library has a new book on this topic called, The Supreme Court in a Separation of Powers System:  The Nation’s Balance Wheel by Richard L. Pacelle, Jr.

The President’s Proclamation on Law Day is posted on Whitehouse.gov, and you can learn more about Law Day at the ABA website.