Current events recap: Kavanaugh panel & environmental rally

A Discussion of the Era of Kavanaugh -- Oday Yousif, ACS Vice President

More than 60 students attended a panel discussion Oct. 30 on the repercussions of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s recent appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hosted by the American Constitution Society and Women’s Law Caucus, the panel discussed how Kavanaugh’s confirmation will impact the Supreme Court and women’s rights. (For background on Kavanaugh, his views, and his confirmation, see our Kavanaugh coverage.) Additionally, the panel discussed the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court will have major implications for generations to come,” said Melissa Owens, president of the Women’s Law Caucus. “The discussion conducted through the partnership of ACS and WLC was truly invaluable for staff, students, and attorneys in the community.”


The panel was moderated by Cal Western legal writing professor Roberta Thyfault. Professor Thyfault is a former criminal defense appellate attorney. Additionally, she has served as a clerk for a federal judge in Colorado and on the Ninth Circuit. Professor Thyfault was one of the first three San Diego law professors to sign the nationwide letter disapproving of Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In her brief remarks, she noted how the current generation of law students never knew a time when reproductive rights were almost non-existent and, therefore, emphasized the need to focus on these issues and fight to protect them.

The first panelist was civil litigation attorney Jenn French, who serves as the co-chair of the Reproductive Justice Committee of the Lawyer’s Club of San Diego. French primarily focused on reproductive rights issues that may come before the Supreme Court during Justice Kavanaugh’s first term on the Court. She said that while there could be a complete overhaul of the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, it is more likely that reproductive rights will be dismantled piece by piece.

The second panelist was San Diego sexual assault victim attorney Jessica Pride. Pride is the managing partner at Pride Law Firm, where she specializes in personal injury and sexual assault and harassment claims. She is also a volunteer for the Center for Community Solutions, an organization focusing on the prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence. In the panel discussion, Pride focused primarily on the issues of sexual assault and harassment. She focused specifically on issues of reporting and convictions: only 0.2 – 5.2% of perpetrators nationwide are actually convicted. She also added that California has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault. Since the assault accusation against Justice Kavanaugh, reports of sexual assault and harassment have risen considerably, she said.

The final panelist was Cal Western constitutional law professor Glenn Smith. Professor Smith is also an expert in Supreme Court dynamics and decision-making.  He was among the San Diego law professors who signed the nationwide letter opposing Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Professor Smith focused his discussion primarily on the judicial impact that Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation will have on the ideology of the Court. He believes that Justice Kavanaugh’s addition to the conservative majority will not necessarily mean the complete overturning of landmark cases protecting reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights. Professor Smith believes, with caution, that Chief Justice John Roberts will not allow for such a complete overhaul of established case law and may very well become the new swing voter of the Court.

1L Chelsey Gonzales said the panel provided a balanced variety of perspectives on the issues: “Professor Smith was very analytical and objective about what has been going on with the Supreme Court nominee, whereas Ms. Pride really grabbed the audience with her passion while still staying on topic.”

“The panel on the Kavanaugh hearing really put a lot of the emotional opinions I was hearing in the media into a legal context,” said 2L Yvonne Locke. “My favorite part was how passionate the sexual assault attorney from Pride Law Firm was. Her drive to help victims of sex crimes reinforced the reason why I came to law school, which was to help people.”

Students join rally for government accountability -- Samantha Chaidez, ELS President
ELS member Andrea Alberico speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 28 rally.

Cal Western students from the Environmental Law Society (ELS) and International Law Society (ILS) participated in a rally advocating for the plaintiffs in Juliana v. U.S., a pending Supreme Court case attempting to hold the government accountable for environmental degradation.

The San Diego rally, which took place Oct. 28 near the U.S. federal building, was one of more than 70 similar rallies that occurred nationwide on that Sunday.

3L Andrea Alberico was one of several speakers who addressed the crowd.

“Speaking at the event was a great experience because I was able to inform concerned individuals what this case could mean for environmental justice,” she said. “It’s great that the plaintiffs were so concerned with what climate change can do to their future that they decided to take action and exercise their constitutional rights at such as young age.”

The Juliana plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 11-22 at the time of the original filing, argue that the government has known about the dangers of climate change for more than 50 years. But despite that knowledge, the U.S. has continued to pursue reckless and dangerous fossil fuel development, harming the health of our communities and threatening our futures. The young plaintiffs want a federal Climate Recovery Plan that is in line with both the best available science and climate justice.

The case was originally scheduled to be heard in federal district court in Portland, Oregon, on Oct. 29. However, on Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, i.e. a halt, on discovery and of the trial at the request of the U.S. government. The plaintiffs claim that the potential length and cost of a trial were not a legitimate reason to stop the proceedings, which relate to the constitutional rights of young Americans.

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