Amber Banks has been named the Garrison Social Justice Scholar for the Class of 2020.
Banks’ award was announced by Professors Terry A. Maroney and Daniel J. Sharfstein, who co-direct the George Barrett Social Justice Program. “Amber already is an experienced advocate, having worked in reproductive justice for several years before entering law school,” Maroney said, “and we are very excited to support her as she grows into an even more skilled champion for civil rights.”
The Garrison Social Justice Scholar receives a supplemental annual scholarship for the second and third years of law school, as well as stipend support for unpaid public interest legal work during the two summers prior to graduation. The scholarship was endowed by Amy Price Garrison (BA’79) and Frank M. Garrison ’79 (BA’76) through the Amy and Frank Garrison Social Justice Law Fund.
Banks earned her undergraduate degree in government at the University of Virginia. She worked for NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, based in Silver Spring, for five years before entering law school. “Even in a state as progressive as Maryland, there was so much to do,” she said. “My decision to pursue a legal education was a result of seeing what can be done through advocacy and policy work and what could not.”
As part of her work with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Banks helped form Reproductive Justice Inside, a statewide coalition of reproductive justice, racial justice and criminal justice reform groups that advocates for access to high-quality sexual and reproductive health care in Maryland’s correctional and detention facilities. “Reproductive justice is inextricably tied to other issues of justice,” Banks said.
Her work quickly expanded to address a broad spectrum of issues that may limit girls’ and women’s access to health care. This included working with economic justice groups to advocate for a $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave; with criminal justice reform organizations to address conditions of confinement for juveniles, such as solitary confinement and strip searches; with child advocacy groups to improve school discipline and attendance policies; and with health care reform and women’s groups to expand access to reproductive health services through Medicaid. “When issues are siloed, we aren’t able to get as much done. We were so much more successful working together,” she said.
As a Vanderbilt 1L, Banks has joined the Law Students for Social Justice and the Social Justice Reading Group. She is also an active member of La Alianza, for which she will serve as treasurer in her 2L year. “My career goal is to work on impact litigation, and I am especially interested in issues of criminal, racial, and economic justice,” she said. “I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to attend law school, and I’m very grateful to receive this scholarship.”