Thursday, January 24, 2008

Women, the Law, and Litigating for Social Change

From Monday, January 7th thru Friday, January 11th, the Women and Politics Institute hosted an intense 5-day course- Women, the Law, and Litigating for Social Change.

The course, taught by Dr. Carolyn Cox Cohan, led the class through an overview of various Supreme Court cases that affected women in various areas including pregnancy, abortion rights, employment, sexual harassment, Title VII, and Title IV (just to name a few!). In addition, as stated by Dr. Cox Cohan, “Before we can ascend the bench or bang the gavel in the Senate, the class will learn about the protracted process of bringing a case from the filing of a lawsuit, through multiple levels of court proceedings and review, all the way to the nation’s highest court.” The course not only broadened our understanding of cases and laws that affected women, but it taught the class the importance behind how the law came to be.

Reading and briefing cases served as a foundation for our understanding of the law in this course but it was aided through student run dramatizations of various Supreme Court cases! Having broken up into groups, students were asked to find memorable ways to remember important cases- this ranged from groups conveying information through group-run Dateline specials, panels, and even real life situations that could lead to a law suit.

Aside from briefing and dramatizing cases, the course epitomized why students study law, politics, and policy in Washington, D.C. because it provided students with a hands-on approach to understanding the laws affecting women. Fantastic speakers were brought to speak to the class about their role in the law such as attorney and former Supreme Court clerk, Ketanji Brown Jackson. In addition, as a special treat after having completed Joan Biskupic’s book, Sandra Day O’Conner, the class was dropped a visit by the author herself! Joan Biskupic came to speak to the class about her experience working as one of the only Supreme Court journalists and her work on the book about the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

Not only did various guest speakers provide the class with insight into the law but field trips helped to broaden our knowledge about the subject! The class had an opportunity to meet with Judge Ellen Huvelle, an appointee of the United States District Court, to discuss the presidential judicial appointment process and her work on the Federal trial court. Furthermore, the week was topped off with a visit to the Supreme Court which included a tour of the Courtroom and also a meeting with two of Justice Breyer’s law clerks!

This class provided students with fabulous opportunity to get an insider’s look into the law and its effect on women! Words to describe how great this course was could never do it justice (no pun intended)!

Written by Helen Nissan
Senior, School of Public Affairs, American University