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Annual Barrett Lecture

Political Activism poster imagePolitical Activism, Legal Advocacy, and Labor Organizing: A Conversation on Creating Change with Danny Glover, David Cole and Bruce Raynor, the 2019 George Barrett Lecture

The George Barrett Social Justice Program hosted the annual Barrett Lecture October 10, 2019 featuring a discussion of three different perspectives/experiences of social justice advocacy – Danny Glover as an actor turned activist, David Cole as a public interest lawyer, and Bruce Raynor as a labor leader.


2018-19 Barrett Lecture poster2018-19 Barrett Social Justice Lecture: Challenging Family Separation in the Courts

The George Barrett Social Justice Program welcomed 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 spoke 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.

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...

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.

poster image for John Bliss event* Social Justice and the Legal Profession Series: From Idealists to Hired Guns? An Empirical Analysis of Public Interest Drift in Law School

* All academic events scheduled in March and April 2020 have been cancelled in accordance with Vanderbilt University's coordinated response to the coronavirus, which is based on public health recommendations.

March 17, 2020
12:00 p.m.
Bennett Miller room
Lunch served

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office for the third installment of this year’s Social Justice and the Legal Profession series, featuring John Bliss of University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  Professor Bliss will discuss his five-year qualitative study of the experiences of more than 50 elite law students who entered law school with stated preferences for public sector work but decided to pursue private sector positions by the beginning of their 2L year.  Professor Bliss studied the students’ experiences through interviews, ethnographic observations, and identity mapping.  His findings indicate that law student “public interest drift” is a far more complex and nuanced process than traditional accounts suggest.

event poster image for social justice and the legal profession seriesSocial Justice & the Legal Profession Series: Technology and Civil Liberties Law in the Public Interest

February 24, 2020
12:00 p.m.
Bennett Miller room
Lunch served

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office for the second Social Justice and the Legal Profession panel of the year.  This event will feature three panelist—Laura Moy, Executive Director of the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology; Matt Cagle, Technology & Civil Liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California; and Sophia Cope, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The panel will discuss current legal issues involving new and developing technologies and how they intersect with other areas of law such as immigration and policing, as well as how the panelists have pursued their public interest careers. G.S. Hans, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School, will moderate the panel.

LGBTQ+ Advocacy Panel poster imageSocial Justice and the Legal Profession Series: LGBTQ+ Advocacy Panel

October 21, 2019
12:00 p.m.
Bennett Miller room

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office for the first Social Justice and the Legal Profession panel of the year. The panel will focus on LGBTQ+ rights advocacy and careers and will be moderated by Professor Jessica Clarke . Speakers include Tara Borelli, Counsel at Lambda Legal, Dru Levasseur, Deputy Program Officer for the National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation, and David Dinielli, Deputy Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s LGBT Rights Project.

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

The panel explored various areas of children’s rights practice, including: education rights; juvenile justice; and “best interests” advocacy, as well as the range of practice settings – nonprofit, public defender’s offices, government agencies – from which this work can be pursued. 

Beth Cruz ‘10 is the team leader of the Education Rights Project, a delinquency prevention and reduction initiative that provides advocacy for students with disabilities at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system. Cruz joined the office after graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2010. Sarah Grey McCroskey ’14 is an Assistant General Counsel for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, the state agency tasked with investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect, caring for children who have been placed in foster care, and providing services to help preserve or reunify families. Sarah Grey joined the Williamson County DCS office after graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2014. Cara Suvall teaches the new Youth Opportunity Clinic at Vanderbilt University Law School. The clinic will support teenagers and young adults who are at risk for criminal legal involvement by providing civil legal representation in the areas of education, housing, and employment. Professor Suvall began her legal career as a staff attorney at The Bronx Defenders.

VLS grads event poster imageVLS Grads Serving the Public Interest

This panel featured 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.


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 Distinguished Practitioner in Residence

Image of Nina Perales Poster image for the event 2019-20 Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Nina Perales2019-20 Distinguished Practitioner in Residence: Nina Perales

February 4, 2020
12:00 p.m.
Flynn Auditorium
Lunch Served

Nina Perales is vice president of Lltigation for MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In that role, she supervises the legal staff and litigation docket in MALDEF’s offices throughout the United States. Perales is best known for her work in voting rights, including redistricting and vote dilution cases. Her litigation has included successful statewide redistricting cases in Texas and Arizona as well as LULAC v. Perry (2006), a Voting Rights Act challenge to Texas congressional redistricting which Perales led through trial and argued successfully in the U.S. Supreme Court. She also led the challenge under the National Voter Registration Act to an Arizona voter law and secured a favorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona v. ITCA (2013). In addition, Perales specializes in immigrants’ rights litigation, including leading the case striking down an anti-immigrant housing ordinance in Farmers Branch, Texas.

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

The George Barrett Social Justice Program welcomed 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.