Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate Magazine and a nationally-recognized commentator on the law and the Supreme Court. She’s also a former classmate of mine, so I was very excited to read her recently released Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America, which was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Lithwick not only makes challenging legal issues understandable, but she manages to convey the precariousness of our legal rights with inspiration and hope.
Lady Justice tells the stories of smart and dedicated female attorneys fighting during the Trump presidency, with each chapter devoted to specific legal issues that include Trump’s Muslim ban, reproductive health, voter suppression, white supremacy, and sexual harassment. The focus is on the issues more than the individual attorneys, because as inspiring as these attorneys are, no lawyer or activist works alone. Lithwick shows us that legal activism is about careful research and analysis, coalition building, and many hours of work. But it’s also about vision and courage.
I appreciated that while Lithwick writes about women who are well known, like Anita Hill and Stacy Abrams, much of the book is about women who are less well known. I had the good fortune to sit across a table from one of them recently, Vanita Gupta, who is the Associate Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice.
One of the more interesting parts of the book was about the nominations of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, and the pervasive problem of sexual harassment among judges, who are nearly untouchable. Lithwick describes her own experience and also the experience of one of my favorite authors and former lawyer, Courtney Milan.
With a subject this broad, it would have been easy to get bogged down in details about cases and legal procedure. But I found the book a well-paced, engaging read. The stories in this book are told in a personal way and the issues are relevant and impactful. I took away a few things from this book. First, that smart, dedicated people can make a difference. But second, that the law is ever-changing, though slow-moving, and our rights can never be taken for granted. This is both hopeful and terrifying at the same time. I got into government work for exactly that reason — it’s possible to make a difference, but only slowly and incrementally, and it takes a lot of work.
Two short years after Donald Trump left office, we face new headwinds that threaten to leave American women vulnerable in ways we could barely have imagined when Whole Women’s Health was argued… But women are not without legal and constitutional resources to fight back. Female lawyers know this fight intimately; they’ve been doing this work for decades. This is their playbook. This is the task ahead.Dahlia Lithwick, Lady Justice
I don’t love the book’s title or the hot pink cover – I think many books are marketed to women in a way that excludes men and diminishes the seriousness of the content. Unfortunately, this is not a book just for women, it’s a book for anyone who needs hope right now in our legal system and it also presents some much-needed pathways for bringing about change.
I imagine most people who go to law school do so because of an attorney they admire – without that, it’s a daunting journey! For me, over 25 years ago, that person was Thurgood Marshall, with his fight to desegregate schools and his accomplishments as the first black Supreme Court Justice. Today I’m sure many would point to Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sonia Sotomayor. And in the coming years, I expect the women featured in this book will point many more young people towards the law.