Sixth Circuit Judge Donald Serves as Jurist in Residence

The law school recently hosted the Hon. Bernice Donald of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit as Jurist in Residence. During her visit, Judge Donald offered suggestions for oral arguments at a moot court session for a pending Supreme Court case, visited classes, advised students about clerkships, met with small groups of faculty, met with the women federal judges in the eastern district, and spoke at the 10th Annual BLSA Scholarship Banquet. In addition, Donald delivered the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemorative Address as part of the Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series. This lecture entitled, “From the Struggle for Civil Rights to Strivings in ‘Post-Racial America,’” offered a window into a life of conflict alien to many students today.

Donald was the first African American appointed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. She later became the first female African American judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Donald began her lecture with a slide show to bring her audience into “the moment.” The images depicted milestones of the Civil Rights movement: demonstrations, famous speeches, and ordinary people, mainly students, simply trying to live better lives. Noting how she grew up in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Donald recounted some of the adversity and obstacles she faced, including the “separate but equal” education system, as well as the upheaval and difficulties that came with being among the first to attend newly desegregated schools. According to Donald, “the history of the struggle for equality in the United States is not one that tracks a straight line.”

Donald closed the lecture by emphasizing that things that happened in the past don’t stay in the past; they have a profound effect on the future. Today, just as during the Civil Rights movement, students are in key positions to be activists for real change, she stressed. She also advocated that society today has all the tools to be more united and to achieve more progress than ever before; individuals just need to use these tools. “Laws can’t prevent justice, only people can,” Donald concluded.

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Brent Mueller, Spring 2014