Monday, June 2, 2014

"Do Unto Others..."

All twenty of my faithful readers know that I use this space to brag obnoxiously about my children.

I've decided to give you all a break.

I'm'a brag about my sister, instead.

Carolyn is amazing. Uh. MAY. ZING.

While I wish I could take credit for this, she achieved her insane level of awesomeness through her own raw talent, incredible work ethic, and fantastic organizational skills.

I feel the family is entitled to shine a little in the reflected glory, though. I like to think that we helped her, at least a smidge.


Back when Carolyn was in 7th grade and I was in college, her two favorite teachers, Mr. Fassold and Mr. Sturgeon, did a joint English/Social Studies unit on Japanese Internment.

One night over dinner, Carolyn told us about the class discussion they'd had that day. Most of the kids in her class had read the textbook section on this part of U. S. History and thought that, well, if it was necessary for the safety of everyone else...regrettable, to be sure, but in a time of war...unpleasant things happen but trust the government and move on...

I was amazed. These were the same kids whose archly-conservative parents wanted to impeach Bill Clinton? And they just wanted blindly to trust one of the biggest governmental invasions of civil rights ever? (And this was BEFORE 9/11.)

Carolyn was less convinced Japanese internment had been a good idea, but thought that perhaps it wasn't quite as bad as Dad and I made it sound.

We sat around the dinner table long after the meal was over and discussed the point at length. I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dad reminded her of her seven half-Japanese cousins. I asked "Why didn't they round up all the Germans, too? Yes, people of German ancestry were discriminated against during World War II; they were fired from jobs, denied equal access to housing, etc., but citizens on the East Coast weren't summarily rounded up and dispossessed the way the Japanese people were." Dad pointed out that most of these people were U. S. citizens, not foreign nationals. I started spinning damning hypothetical scenarios and asking difficult questions about "But what if it had been..."

Carolyn was kind, insightful, and mature. She followed the arguments carefully and mostly agreed. She was also young and a bit naive, though, so she said, a few times, "Yes, it's awful, but if it was really the only way to protect national security--"

As I recall, the turning point happened when Dad broke out a book with the text of the Korematsu case. He began quoting Justice Jackson's powerful dissent. At that point, Carolyn dove into the case law itself, reading the majority opinion. "Wait," she said, "The Supreme Court basically just said 'It's wartime so we'll let the military do anything it wants.' But it doesn't look like the military produced much actual evidence of a problem."

"Yes," pressed Dad. "And there were never any cases of Japanese-Americans being convicted of espionage."

"But" asked Carolyn, cogently, "If there are no checks and balances on the military, what's to prevent it from turning into a dictatorship--"

Dad and I smiled at each other, satisfied.


The next day, the discussion resumed again in her classroom, and this time Carolyn argued--persuasively and passionately--for why the practice had been both unconscionable and stupid. She did such a fantastic job that her teacher appointed her as the lead attorney in a mock trial on the topic.

Carolyn prepped. She read, she researched, she organized, she wrote. We adults barely helped. Mom and Dad might have suggested a few things for her to read, and I think I made a few minor editing suggestions. Carolyn conferenced with Cheryl, who has an M.A. in Political Science. Cheryl also donated a constitutional law textbook to the cause, but Carolyn dug through it herself in painstaking detail.

On the appointed day, she was BRILLIANT. We didn't get to see her in action, but we heard all about it afterwards.

Several people (including me) suggested she should pursue a career in law. She demurred at first, thinking that "lawyer" meant "Perry Mason." I and others argued that she could choose to be the kind of attorney who spent most of her time researching and writing about complex issues such as Japanese Internment.

It took a few years, but she finally came to embrace her destiny. ("Well, if I don't have to deal with actual criminals...")


Why the long backstory? Because Carolyn has done something so completely cool that I can't contain myself.

Back in March, she posted this link on facebook. It was about how the U. S. Supreme Court had just "granted cert" to a handwritten petition. A Muslim prisoner in Arkansas wanted to wear a half-inch beard and had been denied. He appealed.

I read his petition and was very impressed. I re-posted the link with this comment:

"This is awesome. His writing mechanics are excellent. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, research, citations. Accuracy, brevity, clarity....Oh, and I agree with his brief, too."

Carolyn joked that she should offer to represent him pro bono. Then she went home, thought about it, and decided that rather than just joke, she would pursue the idea. (And that, my friends, is what sets her apart from the rest of us.) Unsurprisingly, the prisoner was already represented, but when she inquired, she was offered the chance to write a major amicus curiae brief in the case, representing the Anti-Defamation League, Muslim Advocates, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Queen's Federation of Churches, and the Sikh Legal Defense and Education Fund. (Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs, all defending the rights of a Muslim prisoner. God bless America.)

So, here she is, less than two years out of law school, and she has written a brief that will be read by justices of the U. S. Supreme Court. She is using her education and talents to defend important principles and to help make the world a better place.

Here's a link to her brief. For those of you who can't wade through the whole thing, I'll summarize. First, she says that although the law clearly states that inmates should be allowed as much religious expression as can reasonably be accommodated without violating prison security, this principle has been very inconsistently applied. She cites numerous examples of confusion and contradictions in the case law and asks the court to clarify things. Second, she points out that when government gets into the business of regulating what constitutes "legitimate" religious practice, it causes significant disadvantages for people of minority or splinter religious groups. Third, it is natural for prison officials to advocate for whatever makes life easiest for the guards, which means they have a tendency to say "absolutely no variations to the uniform" without considering reasonable alternatives. Fourth, she claims that some courts defer too much to prison authorities who claim "allowing that exception would ruin our security!"

Imagine a Catholic prisoner--say a non-violent offender serving two years on a marijuana charge--who wants to wear a crucifix. Prison officials say "no exceptions to the prison uniform." The prisoner offers "If it's a security problem, I could wear a cloth crucifix, affixed with velcro. Please. God has laid it on my heart to witness my devotion in this way." Officials still say no. The inmate sues, claiming a religious exemption.

Now imagine if the judge says "Well, the prison officials claim that a cloth-and-velcro crucifix is incredibly dangerous, so I'm rejecting your request." Or, worse, if the judge says "You only go to church on Easter. I've decided that you aren't dedicated enough to your religion to deserve a religious exemption from normal uniform rules--and besides, the Pope has never said that wearing a crucifix is required, so it's just not an important issue. I've checked, and while some Catholics wear a crucifix, the majority don't, so it's not essential to your salvation. Case dismissed." The prisoner is hauled away, protesting "But God is the ultimate rehabilitation expert, and you're interfering--"

Do we really want the government meddling deeply in questions of personal conscience, sincerity of belief, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy? Do we want prison officials to deny all religious requests just because they are slightly inconvenient?

Carolyn says "Nope!" I agree with her. (Now, if the Wiccans want a grove of trees that block lines of sight from the sentry towers, or if Native Americans want to spend millions of tax dollars building a sweat lodge in the courtyard, I would be less sympathetic. That's not the issue here, though.)


Carolyn didn't just write a brief; no, true to form, she wrote a really good brief. I'll be waiting to see if any of the justices refer to Carolyn's brief in oral arguments or in written opinions.

And what will Carolyn be working on next? Well, she says her new goal is to "write a Supreme Court brief on behalf of a party and sit at the counsel’s table!" I believe it will happen. And when it does, I'll totally brag obnoxiously about that, too.

Though, Carolyn--heh, heh--I note that you're kinda dealing with an actual criminal. ;)

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Thanks, Gail sister!