Monique Hannam, winner of the 2015 Nagareda Prize for the best research paper addressing litigation and dispute resolution written by a member of the graduating class, was already an attorney when she entered Vanderbilt Law School. Hannam, a native of Jamaica, had worked in the attorney general’s chambers in Kingston as an assistant crown council after earning her law degree at the University of the West Indies.
When Hannam married and moved to North Carolina with her husband, Paul, then a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, she realized she would need to earn an American law degree. “Jamaica has a common law system, but it’s more like the British system,” she explained.
She clerked for two years at an immigration law firm and volunteered with Legal Aid of North Carolina, where she received the 2009 Volunteer Law Clerk Award. “That was very fulfilling, but I was not actually working as a lawyer,” she said.
When the Hannams moved to Nashville in 2011 so Paul could start medical school, Monique applied to Vanderbilt. She started law school in 2012 with two children under 2 and celebrated the birth of her third son this spring.
Hannam wrote her prize-winning paper, “Highway Discrimination? The Controversial Routing of Interstate 40 through North Nashville and Its Impact on Nashville and Federal Highway Planning,” for Professor Daniel Sharfstein’s Legal History of Race in the United States seminar. Sharfstein nominated her paper for the annual award, which is sponsored by the Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program and includes a $1,000 prize. It is named in honor of Richard Nagareda, the first director of the Branstetter program.
Hannam’s paper addresses Nashville I-40 Steering Committee v. Ellington, an unsuccessful 1967 challenge by a group of North Nashville residents to stop construction of an Interstate 40 link through the heart of their neighborhood. “The Committee presented compelling evidence that in addition to choosing a route that would disproportionately injure the African American community, the authorities denied the community adequate notice and a proper public hearing, and inadequately considered the likely economic effects,” Hannam reported. “Moreover, the Committee presented cogent evidence that the decision-making process was shrouded in misdirection and misinformation, to the detriment of the community. But, despite such startling evidence, the courts denied relief, thus paving the way for bulldozers to divide a successful African American community and sounding the death knell for 80 percent of its businesses.”
In ruling against the plaintiffs in the I-40 case, Hannam concluded, “the Sixth Circuit filtered the historical and contemporary racial context from its decision, an omission that severely undermined the Committee’s claim of racial discrimination.”