Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America
Anyone familiar with legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick’s prolific writings at Slate.com or in numerous prestigious publications will find her book, Lady Justice, compelling, disturbing, urgent, and hopeful. Like her TV appearances in which she shares her expertise on headline-making court decisions, she presents analysis clearly and with characteristic humor meant to assuage rising anxiety about America’s justice systems and those who rise to the top within them.
A lawyer herself, Lithwick has a special niche as a legal reporter who sees the legal world through the lens of gender, without which many of the issues she raises would be unknown and ignored. She might well be called a feminist justice journalist whose work is eye opening, consciousness raising, and deeply necessary.
Lady Justice reveals how crucial it is to understand the necessity of reforming judicial systems and to effect court reform at all levels. Gathwick achieves her goal of exposing and adjusting the law’s impact on society by sharing women’s stories, many of whom will be familiar, and most of whom are lawyers. Each woman profiled in the book represents how hard they worked collectively to achieve social justice with lasting effect, and it is through their personal stories that the underbelly of the legal establishment is revealed.
The book begins with an Introduction that explains Gathwick’s need to write it, followed by an introductory chapter which opens with the now famous quote, “Lock her up!” The attack on Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016 revealed how bad things had become for women in Trump’s time. It also inspired the commitment of women engaging professionally in the legal system to expose, and confront, deeply rooted misogyny in that system. As Gathwick writes in her classic style, “It [was] a threat about using the law . . . to punish a woman from seeking elected office . . . This was a threat to use the coercive force of state police power to lock up powerful females. . . . It was the Salem witch trials.”
Several noteworthy women are present in “The Beginning” chapter. Along with Hillary Clinton they include Christine Blasey Ford, Ilhan Omar, and writer and lawyer Pauli Murray, but it is the in-depth stories of individual women that sound the clarion call. Their stories are revelatory.
Beginning with Sally Yates, the acting U.S. attorney general when Trump took office who refused to sign off on his Muslim travel ban and was fired, the stories of courageous, indefatigable women proceed. One of them was lawyer Becky Heller, a co-founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project, who sent volunteer lawyers to airports all over the country at a moment’s notice to represent incoming immigrants as protests were being mounted at record speed. “The airport revolution,” as Lithwick put it, “was one of the first mass uprisings of the Trump era. Parts of it were not unlike the Women’s March that took place days before, spearheaded and organized by women who were angry and itching to act.”
Robbie Kaplan was another woman who’d had enough. A talented litigator, she took on the “Charlottesville Nazis” legally by assembling a team of litigators to go after the leaders of the violence that occurred there, resulting in Heather Heyer’s death by white supremacists, an event now seen as a dry run for January 6, 2021. Brigitte Amin, a talented and dedicated litigator, had also had enough. She took on the issue of “Abortion at the Border.” She and her team successfully fought the infamous case of a 17-year-old immigrant woman held in detention when she realized she was pregnant and was denied an abortion, despite the right to access healthcare.
The stories of each of these dedicated women, and more like them, go deep into what was occurring legally at the time, and how the lawyers challenged what was happening by using the same system that was oppressing their pro bono clients. In Lithwick’s hands each story is compellingly shared with extraordinary skill, insight, compassion, and rage. Each story also exposes the travesties of the so-called justice system and the men who dominate it.
It is that theme that permeates the entire book, culminating in a crescendo of wrongdoing that can be partially addressed by inclusive voter activism as well as viable strategies that “shore up the failure of our democratic norms so that they can protect those who have been most vulnerable. This is about power and democracy itself,” Lithwick says.
The book, rich with detail and drama, also takes readers into the #MeToo movement, the horrendous sexual harassment experiences of Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill, and Stacey Abrams’s experience as a “game changer.” It is gripping and instructive but never overwhelms with details and context. Rather, readers are enlightened, validated, motivated to act. As Anita Hill said of the book, “Through Lithwick’s compelling storytelling, we experience her subjects’ passion for a more just world and applaud their strategies for how to get there. We cannot help but want to join them in the cause.”