Monique Hannam ’15 wins Nagareda Prize for best scholarly paper focusing on litigation and dispute resolution

Apr 27, 2015

Monique Hannam '15Monique Hannam ’15 has won the law school’s 2015 Nagareda Prize for her paper, “Highway Discrimination? The Controversial Routing of Interstate 40 through North Nashville and Its Impact on Nashville and Federal Highway Planning.”

The award, sponsored by the Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program, was announced by the program’s director, Tracey George, who holds the Charles B. Cox III and Lucy D. Cox Family Chair in Law and Liberty. The annual prize, which honors Richard Nagareda, the first director of the Branstetter Program, recognizes the best scholarly paper in the fields of litigation and dispute resolution written by a member of the current graduating class.

Hannam’s paper addresses Nashville I-40 Steering Committee v. Ellington, an unsuccessful challenge brought in 1967 by a group of North Nashville residents to stop the construction of an interstate highway link through the heart of their neighborhood.

In the case, Hannam reports, “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. 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 relatively successful African American community and sounding the death knell for 80 percent of its businesses.”

Hannam wrote the paper for Professor Daniel Sharfstein’s Legal History of Race in the United States seminar. She concludes that, in ruling against the plaintiffs in the I-40 case, “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.”

Sharfstein, who nominated Hannam’s paper for the Nagareda Prize, had high praise for Hannam’s work. “Monique’s paper provides a gripping, richly textured narrative of the I-40 fight,” he said. “Her paper documents serious policy failure by highway planners that could well be explained as intentional discrimination and another failure when the courts did not recognize the discrimination. Then Monique digs deeper to demonstrate how the structure of the highway legislation insulated the freeway planners from political and legal accountability by splitting authority between federal and state officials and leaving out more locally responsive officials. She also considers how the plaintiffs’ lawyers made a crucial error in their framing of the equal protection issues. And she suggests that ex-post judicial resolution will always be difficult when a lot of money has already been spent and when the program at issue is widely regarded as crucial to the nation’s economic growth and security—so litigation has to be one strategy among many.”

Hannam also notes the impact of the failed Nashville I-40 case on similar battles in other cities and argues for the need for critical examination of such cases. “Monique suggests that cases set precedent for a range of contexts—not just for judges, but also for administrators and activists—so a losing case, the kind of case that gets lost in civil rights history, can actually be very important to analyze and understand,” Sharfstein said. “Her paper is brimming with insights. It recognizes the complexities of the highway issue, asks some really important questions, and valiantly suggests answers that are compelling and useful.”

The Nagareda Prize, which includes a $1,000 cash award, is named in honor of the Branstetter Program’s founding director, the late Richard Nagareda. Professor Nagareda, who held a David Daniels Allen Chair of Law, was a leading civil litigation scholar whose work focused on class actions and aggregate litigation. He also was a gifted teacher and a generous mentor who devoted countless hours to working with students on their research and helping them achieve their professional goals. The program recognizes his commitment to students and to their scholarship through this prize.

“I’m pleased to recognize Monique Hannam for this paper, which offers a comprehensive historical and political analysis of the I-40 case as well as a thoughtful examination of the role of public interest litigation in achieving policy goals,” said George.

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