EJS 20th Anniversary – Reflecting on 2006 and the EJS Judge Constance Baker Motley Fellowship

2020 is the 20th anniversary of the Equal Justice Society. Every week leading up to our 20th anniversary celebration on September 17, we will highlight one year in our history. This week we remember 2006, the year we established the Judge Constance Baker Motley Fellowship.

We continued our efforts to research the impact of Proposition 209, which started in 2005 when we helped start a statewide coalition of civil rights advocates, community organizations, research centers, academics, scholars and students. In 2006, we organized convenings on Prop. 209 in Berkeley and Los Angeles, identifying key research needs and reviewing initial polling data. Fourteen years later, EJS is at the forefront of the effort to repeal Prop. 209 through ACA 5 and the Opportunity for All Coalition.

One of the highlights of 2006 was the creation of the Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellowship to nurture the talents of a new generation of progressive lawyers to transform anti-discrimination law and policy. In 2018, Elizabeth J. Cabraser donated a generous gift to help EJS reactivate its Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellowship.

Judge Motley (September 14, 1921-September 28, 2005) was the first African American woman to serve on the federal bench and the first African American woman to serve as chief judge.

“Judge Motley played a major role in the ongoing effort to end racial injustice in this country,” said EJS President Eva Paterson. “Her incredible life is not only marked by how many barriers she broke on behalf of women and Black Americans, but also the considerable legal skills and talents she brought in numerous cases she filed and won as well as to the numerous cases she heard on the bench. When Judge Motley heard about the goals of EJS at a conference of Black federal judges in 2008, she said ‘Now I can relax’ – a sentiment that has motivated us to be our best.”

Judge Motley also served as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s associate counsel and participated in writing the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education. She went on to shatter other gender and race barriers as the first African American woman elected to the New York state senate in 1964 and to the Manhattan borough presidency in 1965.

We have been fortunate to have had stellar attorneys as Fellows:

  • Christina Alvernaz – our new Fellow joining us in July 2020
  • Yoana Tchoukleva – our current Fellow, author of Releasing More People from Prison Will Make All of Us Safer, Not Less So
  • Novella Coleman – now Acting Director of Litigation and Senior Litigation Counsel at Bay Area Legal
  • Brando Starkey – now an associate editor at The Undefeated and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty
  • Sara Jackson – now the Associate Director of Career Development at Rainier Scholars
  • Layla M. Razavi – now the Deputy Executive Director at Freedom For Immigrants
  • Fabián Rentería – now a public defender with the Federal Defender Office, Eastern District of Michigan
  • Claudia Peña – now teaches Disability Rights Law and Re-envisioning the Lawyer’s Role: Trauma Informed Lawyering and Restorative/Transformative Justice at UCLA School of Law
  • Nicholas Espíritu – now an attorney at National Immigration Law Center and teaches Voting Rights at UCLA School of Law

We welcome sponsorships to our 20th anniversary celebration on September 17, 2020, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. The evening will include a oratorio by Marcus inspired by the courage of Harriet Tubman and by the two decades of EJS. Please contact Ginger Johnson at gjohnson@equaljusticesociety.org for more information. Thank you!

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