On January 27, 2016 – just days after he was sworn in — President Donald Trump enacted his ban on people coming from Muslim-majority nations. The unjust ban led acting attorney general Sally Yates to speak out, knowing full well that she would be fired from her post at the Department of Justice.
That same Muslim ban spurred Becca Heller, co-founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), into action. She marshaled the support of volunteer attorneys who showed up at a dozen U. S. airports to help travelers targeted by the ban.
Dahlia Lithwick, a lawyer who covers legal matters for Slate, retells the story of Yates’ and Heller’s resistance in Lady Justice: Women, the Law and the Battle to Save America. Moving on from the two women’s fight against the Muslim ban, Lithwick’s book celebrates other female lawyers who mobilized against Trumpism and its threats to the rule of law.
Lithwick recounts the heroic stories of well-known women (Stacey Abrams and Christine Blasey Ford) and those you may not have heard about — lawyers such as Brigitte Almiri, who fought the president’s efforts to deny an abortion to a pregnant teenager in immigration detention, and attorney Vanita Gupta (now associate attorney general), who worked to stem the separation of families at the U. S. Mexican border.
One of the books’ most stirring chapters tells of the fight to obtain justice for those injured during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. The white supremacist’s march led litigator Robbie Kaplan to declare with horror, “My god, there is a race war happening.” Representing those hurt during the march, Kaplan invoked the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. Lithwick, who was living in Charlottesville at the time, adds her personal asides to the account of Kaplan’s legal success, achieved while defying death threats.
Lady Justice should be on the bookshelf of any aspiring attorney, female or male. If there is one criticism of Lithwick’s book it is that she interweaves almost too much – the women profiles, challenges, legal defenses, and outcomes. Each chapter could have been a book of its own. The book left me with one question: Are we entering an era of women lawyers rescuing democracy from Trumpism, or an era of women’s progress, even if such progress is blunted by a Supreme Court retreating to days of unequal justice?