How to Get Away With Murder: Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating, and the Equal Protection Clause


Last Friday was a trying day. My friend Bob Demmons, one of the plaintiffs in the SF Fire Department desegregation case from the 1980s and former Chief of the SFFD, buried his 50-year-old son that day.  The funeral was beyond sad.  As we know, burying one’s child is not the natural order of life.  It broke my heart to see him in such pain.  I sat near and with my friends Michael Harris and Bill McNeill, both of whom have children whom I know and love and have seen grow to be amazing adults. I thought of what Michael and Bill might be feeling at that moment—knowing that they could feel Bob’s pain in a way that I could not.

Months earlier, I had been asked to speak on racial discrimination and school discipline at Berkeley Law and left the funeral early to get there on time. I was somehow able to rally and was glad I was “among those present” as Bill McNeill’s Mom, Lucille used to quip. There it is again—familial ties.  After the speech I limped home and cocooned at home on my couch.

Scandal the TV show was on and I had read that the two African American women lawyers, Olivia Pope the fixer and Annalise Keating, were going to be on that show and then on How to Get Away With Murder—perfect fare after a challenging day. Well, Ms. Shonda Rimes, I must thank you for being you.  One of the plot lines of both shows involved a legal challenge to the criminal underfunding of public defenders offices around the country, with the result that those charged with crimes are not always able to mount the best defense possible because their lawyers are woefully underfunded.

Well, I usually watch Scandal for less lofty story lines, but I was mesmerized.  The crossover episode on How to Get Away with Murder then shifted to Annalise arguing the case at the United States Supreme Court.  And who appeared in the show but none other than the 93-year-old marvel Ms. Cicely Tyson.  Kerry Washington, Tony, Emmy and Oscar winner Viola Davis, and Ms. Cicely Tyson. Wakanda on TV!!!!

Well imagine my delight and shock when the case of Washington v Davis was mentioned in the show. I almost rolled off the couch. Ms. Keating, AKA Viola Davis, made the case that race played a role in the underfunding of PD’s offices.  The lawyer for the state cited Washington v Davis’s requirement of intent and suggested that the plaintiff should mount a challenge in the state court. Well hush my mouth that is exactly what EJS is doing. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of Berkeley Law and Professor Osagie Obasagie, aided by Professor Shauna Marshall, will be filing an amicus brief in the California Court of Appeal challenging the intent standard as articulated in Washington v Davis.

EJS feels that art and culture are tools for social change. Seeing our arguments come out of the mouths of such fierce Black women was exhilarating.  I ended the evening tweeting about this with Kelly McCreary our EJS Board member and star of another Shondaland show, Grey’s Anatomy.  A day that had started off with such sadness ended with a smile.  We will persist!!


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: