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Social Justice Program Events

The Social Justice Program frequently sponsors lectures, workshops and conferences. Selected past events are described below.


PPILS

Practicing Public Interest in the South (PPILS)

The inaugural conference was designed to bring together lawyers pursuing innovative litigation strategies addressing prevalent social justice issues in the South with legal academics writing on related topics, with the hope that each group’s work will inform the other’s and lasting collaborations may be formed. The inaugural conference focused on three themes: privatized probation and modern debtors’ prisons; voting rights after Shelby County; and resistance to Obergefell and LGBT rights.

 

 

2015-16 Social Justice Fellow Derwyn Bunton (publicity poster) Derwyn Bunton, chief district defender for Orleans Parish (New Orleans), Louisiana 2015-16 Social Justice Fellow, Derwyn Bunton, Chief District Defender, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, spoke about the challenges of on-the-ground defense work.

In his talk, "Public Defense in an Era of Mass Incarceration," Bunton drew 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.

Innocence Speaks poster

"Innocence Speaks," a talk with exoneree Ray Krone - October 27, 2016

In 2002, Ray Krone was the 100th death row inmate to be exonerated as a result of DNA evidence. He was released after serving more than a decade in prison. An Air Force veteran, Krone was arrested on Dec. 31, 1991 for the murder of Kim Ancona, the manager of a bar that sponsored some of Krone’s intramural sports teams. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of an “expert” witness, later discredited, who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Krone’s teeth. He was sentenced to death in 1992.

Sponsored by the George Barrett Social Justice Program, the Criminal Justice Program, and Law Students for Innocence and Prisoner Rights .

 'Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality,' a talk by Katherine Franke "Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality," a talk by Katherine Franke

Marriage equality has been heralded as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. While that may be true, it turns out that the right to marry has a history, and a racial history in particular. The gay rights movement is not the first social movement that prioritized a right to marry; so did the movement to free enslaved people in the 19th century. It turns out that today’s marriage equality movement could learn from the experiences of newly-freed African Americans when they won the right to marry at the end of the Civil War. Juxtaposing these two movements and historical periods we can see how marriage rights provide economic, social and family security. But this history also shows how tying the definition of free and equal citizenship so intimately to the institution of marriage can be dangerous.

Katherine Franke is the Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, where she also directs the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law and is the faculty director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project. She is among the nation's leading scholars writing on law, religion and rights, drawing from feminist, queer, and critical race theory

Co-sponsored by the George Barrett Social Justice Program, Law Students for Social Justice and OUTLaw

Public Interest Law: Alumni Panel SLIDESHOW: Public Interest Law: Alumni Panel & Reception

Laura Coon ’01 , special counsel in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; Brett M. Figlewski ’00 , legal director of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York; and Constantin Severe ’02 , director of the Independent Police Review of Portland, three accomplished Vanderbilt Law alumni who have devoted their careers to serving the public interest, spoke about their public interest careers in a panel discussion .

 

Dawn Deaner, Public Defender of Davidson County, TennesseeDawn Deaner, the elected Public Defender of Davidson County, spoke with students about the crisis in indigent defense stemming from a lack of funding and spiraling caseloads.  She outlined her office's new Defend Nashville initiative, which seeks to bring together the perspectives, priorities, and resources of defenders and the communities they serve, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that every defendant receives excellent representation in an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect.

 

 

Chris Hansen: Lawyering for Social Justice Lawyering for Social Justice:
A Conversation with ACLU Senior Consultant Chris Hansen and Assistant Dean for Public Interest Spring Miller

 

 

Unjust Deeds: The Restrictive Covenant Cases and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement

"Unjust Deeds: The Restrictive Covenant Cases and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement," Cosponsored by the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Energy, Environment and Land Use Program in welcoming Professor Jeffrey Gonda for an engaging talk about his book Unjust Deeds.

 

 

 

 

Ndume Olatushani with Nina Morrison of the innocence Project

Coming Back to Life: A Conversation with Ndume Olatushani and Nina Morrison
Co-sponsored by Law Students for Innocence and Prisoner Rights

 

 

 

 

Refugees from the Northern Triangle and U.S. Detention Policy

Refugees from the Northern Triangle and U.S. Detention Policy
Featuring VLS Alum Rachel Gore '09
Co-sponsored by Law Students for Social Justice

 

 

Wrong Side of the Wall: How the Innocent End Up in Prison, and How They (Sometimes) Get Out

Wrong Side of the Wall: How the Innocent End Up in Prison, and How They (Sometimes) Get Out
Co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Program and Law Students for Innocence and Prisoner Rights

 

 

 

 

Blanche B. Cook, assistant professor of law at Wayne State University Law School, will deliver a talk, "Implicit Bias and Unpacking the Deaths of Unarmed African Americans,"at noon on Feb. 2 in Flynn Auditorium of Vanderbilt Law School. Blanche B. Cook , assistant professor of law at Wayne State University Law School, delivered a talk, "Implicit Bias and Unpacking the Deaths of Unarmed African Americans" 

Co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Program, the Social Justice Program, Black Law Students Association, American Constitution Society, and Law Students for Social Justice.

 

 

40 days in orange, lecture with Kent McKeever '12

'40 Days in Orange: The Role of Faith in My Social Justice Lawyering', talk by Kent McKeever '12

Kent McKeever '12, will speak about his experience wearing a prison jumpsuit throughout Lent and his faith-based approach to social justice lawyering.  Kent is the founder and director of  Mission Waco Legal Services  in Waco, Texas.  His decision to wear a prison jumpsuit throughout Lent in 2014 generated national media coverage. Read the transcript

Co-sponsored by the  Social Justice Program , the  Vanderbilt Christian Legal Fellowship Law Students for Social Justice , and the  Catholic Law Students Association .

 

Panel: Launching your public interest career, October 21, 2014

Launching Your Public Interest Career: VLS Alums in Post-Graduate Fellowships

Post-graduate fellowships are a fantastic way to jump start your public interest career. Join us for a panel discussion among three recent VLS grads about how they landed fellowships or entrepreneurial opportunities to serve the public interest. Panelists included: Elizabeth Johnston '11, Skadden Fellow, National Women’s Law Center, Kent McKeever '12, Founder/Director, Mission Waco Legal Services and Wyatt Sassman '13, associate attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center.

Co-sponsored by the Social Justice Program, the Vanderbilt Christian Legal Fellowship, Law Students for Social Justice, and the Catholic Law Students Association.

Jen Light "From Blackacre to Brooklyn: A Vandy Law Alum's Amazing Adventures in the Trenches of Poverty Law" - November 8, 2013 - Jen Light '96 shared insights she has learned from providing civil legal services to poor communities since graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in 1996, both as a Public Interest Fellow (at Skadden, Arps and Equal Justice Works) and as a staff attorney. She has practiced in settings ranging from the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic in Chicago, to the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, to the Foreclosure Prevention Unit of South Brooklyn Legal Services.

 

 

 Chris Hansen ACLU"From Willowbrook to Myriad: Insights from Four Decades at the ACLU" - September 11, 2013 - ACLU Senior National Staff Counsel Chris Hansen started his public interest career in the early 1970s, fighting for the rights of developmentally disabled persons being kept under deplorable conditions in the Willowbrook State School -- a fight that led to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. He retired in 2013, just after winning the high-stakes battle to prevent corporations from patenting human genes.

 

Social Justice Fellows

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.