YLS professor Vicki Schultz to launch project on the history of civil rights law

Vicki Schultz, Ford Foundation Professor of Law and Social Sciences at Yale Law School, is launching a new project to chronicle the work of early attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.



Madelyn Kumar, collaborating photographer

Law professor Vicki Schultz is launching a new project that will document the early work done by lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, commonly known as ELS.

For the first time, during the spring semester 2022, Schultz will teach a seminar at the law school entitled “Living Civil Rights Law”. Schultz will work with his students in the seminar to interview various living alumni of the section, who is credited with developing some of the broadest concepts in civil rights law, such as disparate impact and affirmative action.

“These people have accomplished incredible things,” said Schultz. “Still, it’s important to note that there has been very little literature on the work of these really hard-working lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the Employment Section or almost any other section, and I think it’s time to do something about it. “

Schultz is herself an alumnus of the ELS Civil Rights Division. Before entering academia, she worked as a litigator in the Civil Rights Division under the Reagan administration from 1983 to 1986. She said those years were enough to “really change” her life and make her understand. that she “was part of something bigger.” than [herself]. “

The section’s early chronicle work will begin with interviews with various attorneys who worked at DOJ between 1968 and 1974. These interviews will be conducted by students at Schultz’s seminar, who will each focus on one or two cases to which their assigned attorneys. have worked. then present their findings to the seminar.

“My feeling is that young people, like people of every generation, are always hungry for inspiration, hope, change and intergenerational connections that will nourish them and help them find their own path to change,” said Schultz. “I hope not only that students learn from lawyers, but that lawyers inspire students to live their own dreams to change the way they were able to do it.”

Alex Fay LAW ’22, who is assisting Schultz in developing the spring course, explained that Schultz intended to make the seminar “democratic and largely student-run”.

Isaiah Ogren LAW ’24 told The News that he is planning to attend the seminar and expressed his enthusiasm for the content of the course.

“I look forward to learning from Professor Schultz about the current state of civil rights law, as well as hearing from the extraordinary women and men in the Civil Rights Division about how they transformed federal law in the 1960s and 1970s to move us forward towards a world without discrimination, ”Ogren wrote in an email to News.

Schultz expects these interviews to be “long and unwieldy” at first, but hopes to contract a professional editor to eventually compress the interviews into 45- to 60-minute segments available for public broadcast.

She added that despite the time needed to complete the project, she is dedicated to preserving “people’s memory”.

Former ELS deputy head Richard Ugelow, who worked at the DOJ from 1973 to 2003 alongside many lawyers Schultz intends to interview, said efforts by ELS lawyers no ‘had never been fully explored.

“The story of how they got the job done has absolutely not been studied or discussed,” Ugelow said. “So Professor Schultz’s work will hopefully create a record and give credit to the work of these wonderful people and lawyers. ”

In the area of ​​discrimination and civil rights law, Schultz believes that the body of laws and legal concepts developed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – the title applied by the ELS – are among the most ” transformers and vast of their time “. This belief inspired Schultz’s efforts to preserve the legacy of the section’s early lawyers, to whom the development of this body of law can be largely credited.

However, Schultz’s intention is not simply to praise the important work that came out of ELS in its early years. In fact, she predicts that some students will be interested in investigating the shortcomings of recourse to existing law.

“I really think we need a whole new paradigm of civil rights law for the 21st century, ”said Schultz. “But until we can build and create the political will for a new paradigm, we need to use what we have in the most creative way possible.”

Although this project is first and foremost a collected story, Schultz also hopes to make relevant contemporary connections in his seminar. She explained that 2020 was a historic turning point for Title VII law, with the Bostock County Supreme Court case against Clayton formally granting LGBTQ people protection from discrimination in the workplace.

Title VII gives the Attorney General the power to prosecute employers who demonstrate a “pattern or practice of discrimination”. According to Schultz, the vagueness of this mandate meant that ELS’s first lawyers had to integrate into affected communities, understand people’s realities through a thorough investigation of the facts, in order to achieve legal victories.

“So I think the best thing that can be said is that the law developed organically from the facts and the needs of the people,” Schultz said. “And if we are to understand what our law should do today, we have to take the same kind of approach.”

For Schultz, this work is significant both in preserving ELS’s historic work and in its ability to connect its students to an older generation of border-breaking lawyers.

Schultz has been a professor at the Faculty of Law since 1993.


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