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event poster imageIndigent Defense v Prosecution?: A Conversation between Nashville’s DA and PD

April 4, 2019
12:00 p.m.
Hyatt Room

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office for the last Social Justice and the Legal Profession panel of the year. The panel will feature a conversation about criminal law careers with Martesha Johnson , the elected Metropolitan Nashville Public Defender, and Glenn Funk , the elected District Attorney General for Nashville-Davidson County. Professor Terry Maroney will moderate.

Martesha Johnson is the elected Nashville Metropolitan Public Defender, the first African American to be elected to this position. Realizing she wanted to be a public defender during a 2007 internship with Nashville Public Defender’s office, she has devoted her entire career to public defense work. During her tenure at the public defender’s office, Johnson has served as the training director and member of the special litigation unit, primarily focusing on serious felony representation. Johnson graduated from The University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Law, where she was recognized as the Julian Blackshear, Jr. outstanding student and honored for her dedication to public service work. She also teaches trail advocacy at Vanderbilt Law School.

Glenn Funk was sworn in as District Attorney General of the 20th Judicial District in August of 2014. He attended law school at the University of Mississippi and began his legal career in 1985 as an assistant public defender in Shelby County Tennessee. He joined the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney in 1986 before starting his own law practice in 1989. He has been called to serve as a special prosecutor in cases where other district attorneys had a conflict of interest. Funk also teaches trail advocacy at Vanderbilt Law School.

Loeffler book cover Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century

February 11, 2019
12:00 p.m.
Hyatt Room

Children's Advocacy Panel posterSocial Justice & the Legal Profession Series: Children’s Advocacy Panel

February 8, 2019
12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Hyatt Room



Chip Colwell book cover Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture

January 17, 2019
12:00 p.m.
Renaissance Room

PPILS posterPracticing Public Interest in the South Conference

October 19-20, 2018
Various times (see event description link)
North Lobby and Renaissance Room
Registration required



Erica Perry Movement Lawyering: How Lawyers Can Support Grassroots Social Justice Efforts

October 19, 2018
12:00-1:00 p.m.
Flynn Auditorium
Lunch served



Social Justice and the Legal Profession Panel Series

The George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office are pleased to offer the Social Justice and the Legal Profession lunchtime panel series. The series will expose students to a diverse range of career paths that allow attorneys to put into practice their social justice and public service values.  It will also explore the special responsibility all attorneys have for the quality of our justice system.

VLS grads event poster imageVLS Grads Serving the Public Interest

September 17, 2018
12:00-1:00 p.m.
Hyatt Room
Lunch served

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Office of Public Interest for the first installment of our Social Justice and the Legal Profession series for the 2018-2019 school year.

This panel will feature three outstanding young VLS alums working the public interest sector. Karen Lindell '12 is an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, which she joined as a Skadden Fellow in 2014. Vidhi Joshi '15 was a Skadden Fellow focusing on re-entry issues at Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Darrius Woods '17 is an Equal Justice Works fellow working on predatory lending and housing issues at Atlanta Legal Aid.  The panelists will discuss their current work and their paths from VLS into public interest work.

Annual Barrett Lecture

2018-19 Barrett Lecture poster 2018-19 Barrett Social Justice Lecture

Challenging Family Separation in the Courts

October 5, 2018
12:00 p.m.
Moore Room
Lunch served

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program in welcoming Lee Gelernt as the 2018-19 Barrett Lecturer. Mr. Gelernt is the lead attorney for the families in the Ms. L litigation in San Diego challenging the federal government’s practice of forcibly separating parents and children at the border.  He will speak about this high-profile ongoing civil rights litigation, which resulted in the district court’s June 2018 issuance of a nationwide injunction prohibiting the federal government from separating migrant and asylum-seeking families at the border and requiring reunification of separated families.

Lee Gelernt is the deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and director of the Project’s Access to the Courts Program. He has been a civil rights litigator for 25 years. During the past 18 months, he has argued several groundbreaking challenges to Trump Administration policies, and successfully argued the first case challenging the President’s travel ban on individuals from certain Muslim-majority nations, which resulted in a federal court in Brooklyn issuing a nationwide Saturday night injunction against the ban one day after the President enacted it and 8 days after his inauguration. Read more...


Barrett Lecture poster image 2017-18 Barrett Social Justice Lecture

Democracy Under Attack: Race, Rights and Resistance

In the 2018 George Barrett Social Justice Lecture at Vanderbilt Law School on April 5, Kristen Clarke challenged VLS students to use their legal skills to address a “national assault” on civil rights that has included voter suppression, mass incarceration and police brutality.

Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, began her talk by recalling a meeting convened in June 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, who invited attorneys from throughout the U.S. to Washington and challenged them to fight for civil rights in their hometowns and states. The late George Barrett ’57, for whom Vanderbilt’s George Barrett Social Justice Program is named, was one of 244 attorneys who attended the meeting. Barrett responded to Kennedy’s charge with a 50-year legacy of civil rights work, including Geier v. Tennessee, a landmark case that desegregated Tennessee’s institutions of higher education. Read more...

Distinguished Practitioner in Residence

Jameel Jaffer2018-19 Distinguished Practitioner in Residence: Digital Journalism and the New Public Square, a talk by Jameel Jaffer

October 30, 2018
12:00-1:00 p.m.
Flynn Auditorium
Lunch served

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program in welcoming Jameel Jaffer as the 2018-19 George Barrett Distinguished Practitioner in Residence.

What we once called the “public square” is now controlled to a large extent by social media companies and other transnational private corporations which have an immense, if poorly understood, influence on who can speak, what can be said, and what speech gets heard.  Because these corporations shape public discourse (and thereby shape our societies), we should recognize that research and journalism that focuses on them is of special social value.  What would it mean for the law to reflect this recognition?  The law affords special protection to journalism and research focused on the government.  Should it afford analogous protection to journalism and research focused on the social media platforms?

Ahilan Arulanantham

From 9/11 to Trump poster imageFrom 9/11 to the Trump Era: Reflections on 15 Years of ACLU Advocacy for Immigrants

The George Barrett Social Justice Program welcomed Ahilan Arulanantham as the 2017-18 George Barrett Distinguished Practitioner in Residence on Tuesday, January 30, 2018.
Reflecting on his own family history and his career at the ACLU, Ahilan discussed lessons learned from his work representing immigrants for the last 15 years. Among other topics, he talked of his experiences with individuals detained in New York after 9/11, his litigation on behalf of Central American children, and his advocacy on behalf of detained immigrants at the Supreme Court.


Derwin Bunton 2015-16 Social Justice Fellow Derwyn Bunton - 'Public Defense in an Era of Mass Incarceration'Vanderbilt's 2015-16 Social Justice Fellow, Derwyn Bunton , is the chief district defender for Orleans Parish (New Orleans), Louisiana, where he leads the Orleans Public Defenders Office, which represents the vast majority of persons charged with crimes – misdemeanors, felonies, and capital offenses – in Orleans Parish. Bunton delivered a talk focusing on the challenges of on-the-ground defense work. In his talk, "Public Defense in an Era of Mass Incarceration," drawing connections between the daily struggle to provide indigent clients with the competent defense the constitution requires and the reality of skyrocketing caseloads and overcrowded prisons.

Dark as a Dungeon: Justice for both the Miners and the Mountains

2014-15 Social Justice Fellow Stephen Sanders '78Dark as a Dungeon: Justice for Both Miners and the Mountains - February 10, 2015 - Stephen A. Sanders '78 , the 2015 Social Justice Fellow and director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, delivered a talk about his work with the ACLC. His talk focused on his work representing Kentucky coal miners seeking in cases involving black lung disease, caused by inhaling coal dust over a long period of time. His talk addressed the case of Gary Fox, a now-deceased coal miner whose claim for federal disability benefits was denied twice. The Fox case was among those featured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, "Breathless and Burdened: Dying from Black Lung, Buried by Law and Medicine," which alleged that coal industry lawyers and doctors had colluded to block disabled miners from receiving federal black lung benefits.

James Esseks, 2014 Social Justice Fellow 2013-14 James Esseks Social Justice Fellow event poster"The Road to Windsor: Marriage and the Broader Struggle for LGBT Rights" - February 11, 2014 - As Director of the LGBT and AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, James Esseks, the 2014 Social Justice Fellow, has helped shape the legal strategy that in the space of just over a decade has moved LGBT persons from extreme subordination to the brink of full legal equality. With US v. Windsor, the 2013 landmark case striking down crucial portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, he achieved the win of a lifetime — a victory that immediately and dramatically changed the lives of all LGBT Americans, the ripple effects of which promise to be even more transformative.


2013 Social Justice Fellow Oona Chatterjee 2013 Social Justice Fellow Oona ChatterjeeOona Chatterjee, associate director of New York City Organizing with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, visited VLS in February as the 2013 Social Justice Fellow. In her lecture, " The Young Lawyer as Social Justice Entrepreneur ,"  Chatterjee examined the critical role that lawyers play in building organized power in low-income communities.



2012 Social Justice Fellow Stephen Bright"Massive Indifference: Routine Violation of the Constitutional Right to Counsel in Death Penalty and Other Cases," a lecture by Stephen Bright, 2012 Social Justice Fellow. Stephen B. Bright is president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights and teaches at Yale Law School. He served as director of the Center from 1982 through 2005, and has been in his present position since the start of 2006. He has taught at Yale since 1993. View a slideshow of the event.



2011 inaugural Social Justice Fellow Cecillia Wang"Defending the Constitution in Anti-Immigrant Times," Social Justice Fellow Lecture by Cecillia Wang of the ACLU. Cecillia Wang, who is the Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, was Vanderbilt's inaugural Social Justice Fellow in 2011. Wang spent several days at the law school meeting with students and sharing her experiences as a social justice attorney.