Maine Law faculty are engaged in a wide range of activities designed to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the law. Below are some recent examples:
- Orientation Programming. Professor Northrop and Associate Dean Wilshusen co-hosted a module for Orientation 2020 with the goal of raising DEI as a core issue in legal education.
- Common Read. Incoming 1Ls are required to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Maine Law faculty and several staff members will moderate small reading group sessions as part of Orientation.
- Racial Injustice in the Law. In Fall 2020, Maine Law offered this new course, team taught by Maine Law faculty members – Professors Bordelon, Davik, Feinberg, Maine, Moffa, Norchi, Pitegoff, Schindler, Welch, and Wriggins. The course, attended by 21 students, examined racial injustice issues throughout a wide range of legal fields, including Property, Tax, Criminal Law, Business Law, Family Law, and many others, with different faculty members leading various sessions.
- Changing Laws. In January 2021, Maine Law offered a second new course, team taught by several Maine Law faculty members. Over 45 students have enrolled in the course, which will cover numerous topics, such as controlled substances, criminal/court records sealing and expungement, policing in schools/education disparities, and right/access to counsel.
- Social Justice Lawyering. Krystal Williams ’17 of the Alpha Legal Foundation will teach this course in the Fall 2021. Contrary to historical depictions of a lone lawyer against a system, true social change is often accomplished through collaborative and communal efforts. Leadership, then, depends less on individual power, but on harnessing collective power. In light of the social injustices that abound, this course will explore the following questions: how we change the systems that allow a few to profit from the suffering of many? When, why, and how do people come together to effect change? And, what is a lawyer’s role in the process? This bridge class is, ultimately, a course in practical leadership development where knowledge of the law and legal strategies are combined with self-awareness, resilience, and community support to create integrated and committed legal practitioners capable of engaging persuasively on various topics of national and global interest. This course will examine select cases of successful efforts to advance human rights in order to (1) learn key principles and (2) apply the strategies to the prominent issues of today. Students will have the opportunity to engage members of the legal community on issues of systemic discrimination through community circle discussions offered through the Alpha Legal Foundation.
Many Maine Law faculty have incorporated social justice themes, including issues of race, in particular, into their assigned readings and class discussions. The following examples highlight some of the issues raised in select courses.
- Cannabis Law. Professor Bloomberg focused numerous class discussions on racial inequities in cannabis law, and dedicated separate classes to impacts of the war on drugs on communities of color and to building social equity in the cannabis industry.
- Constitutional Law. Professor Bloomberg’s Constitutional Law class largely revolved around issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation. In addition to the core Constitutional Law cases in these areas, he incorporated numerous readings and cases regarding these issues, including writings by Frederick Douglass, Charles Black, and Barack Obama. He also focused on the (often overlooked) history around the Reconstruction Era in teaching the Fourteenth Amendment. This history provides key context for understanding our nation’s current shortcomings in racial justice.
- Contracts. Professor Feinberg incorporated readings/discussions that address diversity-related concerns, particularly in the context of the doctrine of unconscionability and in determinations of how the “reasonable person” would view a given situation.
- Elder Law. Professor Feinberg’s assigned readings and discussions focused on topics such as: (1) racial disparities in the context of the Social Security Program; (2) the disproportionate toll that that the pandemic has taken on women, including in the context of retirement savings; (3) discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in the context of housing for the elderly; and (4) racial disparities in advance directives and end of life care.
- Employment Law. Vice Dean Bam required students to read an article about the “Me Too” movement when discussing sex discrimination in the workplace.
- Evidence. In addition to addressing the intersection of race and Evidence law throughout the course, Professor Smith held a special discussion with Evidence students at the end of the semester to provide a chance for them to apply what they had learned throughout the course and to consider how the rules as a whole and specific rules could have a racialized impact in terms of their text or how courts allow them to be used in practice. The students discussed this observation by Professor Jasmine B. Gonzales Rose: “At trial, the facts are not determined through an independent investigation of the truth but by how the rules of evidence are employed to admit or exclude evidence. Attorneys use evidence rules to establish the story that the finder of fact, be it a judge or jury, considers in rendering its findings or verdicts. It is often taken for granted that evidence law applies equally to all persons and provides everyone an equal voice in the courtroom, irrespective of race. [In truth,] evidence law and practice structurally disadvantages people of color.” The students discussed the admission of a defendant’s criminal history or rap lyrics at trial, among other examples.
- Family Law. Professor Feinberg’s assigned readings and discussions focused on topics such as: (1) the role of race in the historical and current laws governing family privacy, marriage entry, and child custody; (2) the role of gender in the historical and current laws governing marital rights, divorce, property distribution, alimony, and child custody; (3) the role of sexual orientation in historical and current laws governing family privacy, marriage entry, parentage establishment, and child custody; (4) class-based considerations in the context of spousal and child support; and (5) issues faced by transgender individuals in the child custody context.
- Health Care Law & Policy. Professor Wriggins’’s course, which is open to MPH students and MBA students, dealt extensively with race and equity issues. It covered the racial segregation and racist history of the U.S. health care system and the changes wrought by the passage of Medicare. It foregrounded issues of race and access to health care throughout the US health care “system.” It focused on legal issues connected with racial and other types of discrimination in health care (such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Students also read important works focusing on reform by experts such as Dayna Bowen Mathews and others. They also spent significant time discussing rural health care access and funding.
- Juvenile Law. Professor Northrop and Associate Dean Wilshusen incorporated DEI and anti-racism more broadly throughout the course as a critical consideration for system-involved youth.
- Privacy Law. Professor Bloomberg focused numerous class discussions on how privacy law has historically prejudiced women, minorities, and other disfavored groups. He also assigned group projects on facial recognition software and e-carceration.
- Professional Responsibility. Professor Pitegoff addressed issues of equity and inclusion pervasively in this course, including attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system and an intensive mid-term assignment assessing the new ethical rule on discrimination and harassment in the legal profession.
- Tax Law. Professor Maine highlighted and discussed several racial disparities in the Internal Revenue Code.
- Torts. Professor Moffa’s Torts course included two separate guest lectures by Prof. Jenny Wriggins, accompanied by reading assignments from her book, The Measure of Injury: Race, Gender, and Tort Law, and her Howard Law Journal piece, “Torts, Race, and the Value of Injury, 1900-1949.” The students also read and discussed a piece by critical race theorist Mari Matsuda, On Causation, in which she demonstrates how the tort system sacrifices human bodies to maintain the smooth flow of the economic system.
- The United States Legal System. Teaching at Duke Kunshan University, Professor Thaler provided readings and conducted written and oral exercises that in part involved issues of environmental and climate justice, the disproportionate impact of policing behavior on people of color, the high rate of incarceration in the U.S., and the impacts on minorities of an overly-burdensome and restrictive set of asylum and immigration policies.
Principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion are deeply embedded in the everyday work of Maine Law’s clinical programs. Through each of the clinical programs, students deal directly with the impact of systems on low-income individuals, people of color and other historically-marginalized populations and learn how to advocate on behalf of their clients. In addition to representing individual clients on a wide-range of case types, students also engaged this year in appellate litigation and policy work in an effort to combat systemic racism – whether it be seeking to combat racism within the U.S. asylum process through the filing of a lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or through the recent filing of a complaint in federal court seeking to end the unethical transfers of ICE detainees in Maine to areas down south or through ongoing work to close down the state’s school to prison pipeline, which has a significant disproportionate effect on youth of color and youth suffering from a disability or learning difference. This project involves faculty and students advocating for ongoing reforms to keep youth out of the justice system and to increase investment in community alternatives to incarceration; changing school policies to prevent suspensions, expulsions, and other exclusionary practices that keep youth from engaging in their education programs; and providing state-wide training to juvenile defenders and education advocates that provide the skills and support necessary to do this work well.
In addition to developing these practical legal skills through case and project work, the Clinic experience fosters in students a deeper understanding of the inequities that exist within the legal system, a practice of listening to those who suffer at the hands of unjust systems, and the skills to take action to address systemic biases. This year, each of the clinic-wide seminar classes infused readings, exercises and discussion relevant to bias, social justice and anti-racism, along with specific classes on cultural humility, lawyering for social justice, and trauma-informed lawyering. Our Clinic’s summer program also features weekly student-directed and student-led dialogue on the inequity in the law where topics such as school to prison pipeline, racial disparities in health care, white saviorism, among many others, are explored. The summer program also incorporates bias and racism in mindfulness teaching of law students, including bringing in the work of Professor Rhonda Magee.
- Professors Bam, Bloomberg, Norchi, Thaler, and Welch participated in a joint course with the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center, the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, and Maine Law. The course, titled “Understanding the COVID-19 Pandemic,” touched on disparate impacts of the pandemic.
- Professors Welch and Beer presented during a concurrent session at the New England Clinicians Conference on March 26. The title of the presentation was “Reimagining the Clinic Seminar through the Lens of Justice Lawyerings.”