President Janet Napolitano
Address at UC Public Service Law Conference
September 23, 2017
President Janet Napolitano gave the keynote address at the UC Public Service Law Conference, in Los Angeles on September 23, 2017. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Dean Mnookin, for that wonderful introduction! I look forward to our conversation after my remarks this morning.
I’d like to recognize the Continuing Education of the Bar program for helping us to organize this important conference, and I want to thank the UCLA campus for serving as our gracious host today.
It is wonderful to witness the first-ever UC Public Service Law Conference after months of planning and work.
As many of you know, the idea for this conference first came up last year when I worked with the Deans of UC’s four law schools to launch UC’s Public Service Law Fellowship program right here at UCLA. We committed to awarding 4.5 million dollars annually to make post-graduate work and summer positions more accessible for promising law students who want to pursue public interest legal careers but might otherwise, out of financial need, seek private sector jobs.
I envisioned an annual conference that would bring together top legal experts from all over the state and from across UC to network with our Public Service Law Fellows, and share expertise on a variety of public service law topics.
Why put such an emphasis on public service and public interest law?
Well, believe it or not, I went to law school once… not that long ago… at the University of Virginia. I spent a few years after graduation in private practice. And then I embarked on a public service career that continues to this day, right here at UC. And through those years, I have often thought of the professional trajectory of lawyers as having three distinct elements:
First, you must learn the craft of law. This is what law school is for. You take classes. You write law review articles. You intern at law firms or nonprofits, or you serve the government.
After that, you move on to your career in law. For some, this means working as an associate at a large law firm in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York. For others, it might mean joining a start-up in Silicon Valley, pursuing a job with an entertainment law firm, or working for a non-profit organization.
And then, once you have graduated from law school and invested some time and energy in building your career, you might also focus on that third element, the one I call “community.” This is when you devote yourself to giving back.
In my mind, the “community” element has always been a crucial part of a legal career. That’s why I believe that pursuing a degree at one of UC’s law schools represents such a unique opportunity—public service is right there in the mission of our university.
And there couldn’t be a better time to study law at an institution that supports and encourages its students to pursue public service careers.
Today, our nation grapples with serious cultural clashes, political divisiveness, and difficult questions about our national identity. At times, these conflicts have caused some Americans—such as people of color, undocumented individuals, Jews and Muslims, and the LGBT community—to feel as though their civil rights are under attack. Through that turmoil, we have witnessed an increasing need—and a growing role—for people with legal training who are devoted to public service.
Law graduates all over the country are focusing on civil rights, through issues related to racial and religious discrimination, immigration, LGBT rights, healthcare access, and more. They are taking on problems that affect some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, representing constituencies who often exist at the fringes of our society, and not by choice. In doing so, they are not only helping their individual clients, but they are reaffirming vital American values such as diversity, inclusiveness, opportunity, and justice for all.
In my time with you today, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about some of the UC law students and graduates who have taken the public service mission of the University of California to heart and have fully embraced the “community” element of their legal careers.
For Zackory Burns, a third-year student at UC Irvine’s School of Law, serving the community means helping people become “wholly themselves.”
Two years ago, Zackory helped classmate Jordan Aiken, now a UCI Law alumna, to establish the Transgender Name and Gender Change Clinic at the law school. Today, Zackory leads that Clinic. With the guidance of supervising attorney Stephen Hicklin—himself a UC Davis Law alumnus—and a partnership with the LGBT Center Orange County, the Clinic has assisted more than 250 transgender people, including dozens of children, with legal paperwork to change their name and gender markers. Through a standard legal process, students like Zackory are helping transgender people match their identity on paper to their true selves.
Now, Zackory and his classmates are starting to think bigger. They want to help create similar clinics in other areas of the state, especially at other UC law schools. They are surveying members of the transgender community in Orange County to find out what other legal support and services they might need, and connecting them with local attorneys. And they are quickly becoming a hub of knowledge for other institutions interested in launching similar clinics for transgender people.
The work of this Clinic isn’t easy. Resources are limited. And building trust with a population that’s been under attack takes time and patience. But in Zackory’s words, “every attorney should be helping a community like this… not to be their savior, but to empower them to be them.”
As the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye is serving the community with every case she hears, and with every day on the job supervising hundreds of judges and thousands of court employees across the state. But more recently, the honorable judge—and UC Davis School of Law alumna—has taken her public service work outside the courtroom and entered the public discourse.
Over the past several months, the Chief Justice has become a champion for undocumented immigrants in California’s courtrooms.
She has called on federal immigration officials to treat courtrooms as sensitive areas—similar to schools, hospitals, and places of worship—and refrain from making immigration arrests in or near those courthouses.
She has argued that such arrests disrupt court activities, and endanger public safety by discouraging those seeking justice, as well as those helping to achieve justice, from showing up to court.
And she has cautioned that these immigration enforcement tactics unnecessarily pit the executive branch of our government against the judicial branch.
In a recent panel discussion in Sacramento, the Chief Justice made it clear that she believed such bold advocacy is her duty: “If no one ever speaks out, then we can never be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Here at UCLA, law students served the community by helping one person find true justice. All they had to do was make their case to the President of the United States.
It all began by coincidence, really, when a couple of UCLA Law professors went looking for a new case to bring to the law school’s Criminal Defense Clinic. Around the same time, a Southern California prisoner named Darnell Crookshank contacted the Office of the Federal Public Defender for help. Mr. Crookshank had already served 20 years of his life sentence for a non-violent drug offense, but he hadn’t given up on getting out. In January of 2016, the Clinic at UCLA was matched with Mr. Crookshank’s case.
The UCLA Law team faced a monumental task, and a tight deadline: prepare Mr. Crookshank’s clemency petition in time to be considered before President Barack Obama left office in January of 2017. The team sought to take advantage of a White House initiative that invited non-violent offenders to petition for a commutation of their sentence. To qualify, inmates had to be serving a sentence that would have likely been lower if they were convicted of the same offense today.
With the guidance of UCLA Law Professors Ingrid Eagly, Julie Cramer, and Peter Johnson, a team of eight students quickly got to work. And just a little more than a year ago, those students had the privilege of contacting Mr. Crookshank to deliver a new verdict: President Obama had commuted his sentence, along with those of 213 other prisoners. Mr. Crookshank would go free.
Jessica Hanson, one of the students who worked on the case and a recent UCLA Law graduate, said that representing Mr. Crookshank made her and her classmates, “better people, and we believe we will be better lawyers.”
And finally, I’d like to tell you about one more UC law graduate—this one from Berkeley Law—who started serving his community before he even set foot in what was then called Boalt Hall.
This man graduated from Berkeley Law in 1953. He dedicated his life to giving back to his community here in California. His name was Allen Broussard.
As a young man, Broussard enrolled at City College in San Francisco. He soon became president of the college’s chapter of the NAACP. At the time, there was a broad effort in San Francisco to push the city to hire its first African American high school teacher and policeman. Broussard, and the NAACP chapter he led joined the effort. They also focused on securing union jobs that previously had been closed to African Americans.
This fight for racial justice, equal opportunity, and civil liberties inspired Broussard to become a lawyer, so he decided to transfer to UC Berkeley. He worked a variety of part-time jobs to put himself through school, first as an undergraduate at Cal, and later as a student at Berkeley Law.
Broussard worked various jobs after graduating from law school. But the urge to serve his community never left him. When he was 34, Governor Pat Brown offered him the opportunity to do so in a powerful way. He appointed Broussard to the Oakland-Piedmont Municipal Court. And so began an illustrious judicial career, one that included 10 years on the California State Supreme Court.
At the same time, Broussard gave back to the community beyond the judicial bench.
He served as a member of both the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Minority Opportunities in the Profession, and the California Judicial Council Committee on Race and Ethnic Bias in the Courts. He served as the first African American president of the California Judges Association.
He mentored scores of law students and young lawyers. He judged moot court competitions across the country.
And he served on local hospital boards, the East Bay Community Foundation Board, and Big Brothers.
Broussard was once asked why he wanted to become a lawyer. His answer was short and simple:
He felt he could make a difference.
For many of us who are lawyers, it becomes not enough to master the craft of law. It becomes not enough to mold a fine career in law. There comes a call to give something back to your community, to use your legal education to make a difference in someone’s life. This is the call that UC law schools help instill in their students and graduates for life.
And it is the call that the University of California answered as an institution last week when we sued the Department of Homeland Security to challenge its decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As President of the University of California, as a lawyer, and as the original author of DACA, I felt compelled to take action to protect these young immigrants, including those at the University of California.
At times like these, we must do more than lament the assault on intrinsic American values or the violations of civil rights we see around us. It is incumbent upon us to use our expertise and skills as lawyers to take meaningful action—to stop injustice in its tracks, to protect the most vulnerable, and to serve our communities when they need us most.
Thank you! And in the words of the University of California motto, “Fiat Lux” – or, “Let There Be Light!”