After earning her degree in government at the University of Virginia, Amber Banks spent eight years focusing on reproductive justice, spending most of that time as an employee of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, and also as part of the all-volunteer leadership of The Female Experience, a D.C.-based nonprofit. “I saw, over and over, that reproductive justice is intersectional–it’s inextricably tied to other issues of justice,” 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 cannot.”
Banks decided to attend law school, with the goal of advancing reproductive justice through legal advocacy. “I saw many gaps where legal work was the best way to move issues forward,” she said. She chose Vanderbilt in part because of its strong Social Justice Program, co-directed by Terry A. Maroney, an expert in juvenile justice who studies the impact of emotion on legal decision making, and legal historian Daniel J. Sharfstein, who studies race and its impact on property rights.
At Vanderbilt, Banks quickly connected with Law Students for Social Justice, an organization of students interested in social justice advocacy, and joined the Social Justice Reading Group. In spring 2018, she was named the Class of 2020 Garrison Social Justice Scholar, winning a two-year scholarship that also provides summer stipend support to allow her to do unpaid legal work in the public interest. During summer 2018, Banks plans to serve as a law clerk at the Texas Civil Rights Project, based in Austin. “TCRP litigates to protect voting rights, advance racial and economic justice, and reform the Texas criminal justice system,” she said. “I’m excited to have the chance to work on these issues with them.”
Banks also addressed criminal justice issues as part of her work with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. She helped form Reproductive Justice Inside, a statewide coalition of reproductive justice, racial justice and criminal justice reforms groups that advocates for access to high-quality sexual and reproductive healthcare in Maryland’s correctional and detention facilities. Her work also expanded to address broader issues that limit 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, such as solitary confinement and strip searches of juveniles; 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.
Banks will serve as vice presidents of Law Students for Social Justice and treasurer of La Alianza during her 2L year after being active in both groups as a 1L. “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.”