September 5, 2000
Volume 53, No. 2
A tale of two (Emory) professors
David Anderson Hooker '94L is president of the Gate City Bar Association.
As president of the Gate City Bar Association, I believe that one of my primary roles is to serve as a spokesperson and ambassador of goodwill from the legal profession to the greater community-specifically, to African-Americans.
In the churches, barbershops, pool halls and fitness centers I visit, there is an overwhelming sense expressed that rich folks and white folks are the sole beneficiaries of judicial action. There seemed to be a time when this opinion was turning around, but then the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which has filed lawsuits around the country in an attempt to dismantle affirmitive action programs, and its judicial sympathizers effectively dampened any sense of optimism in that regard.
Even among very rational thinkers who have been relatively successful in this system, there is a significant distrust of government and all of its apparatus. I constantly consider how best to present arguments that will have a positive impact on our community's perception of the law, law enforcement officers and lawyers.
As summer comes to a close and the school year rapidly approaches, I think about my years in law school, and I am particularly reminded of the lessons of two of my professors.
My litigation professor, Warner Curry, taught me: "Argue the law; if the law is against you, argue facts; if facts don't support you, argue policy; and, when all else fails, argue legislative intent or the 'spirit of the law.'"
Following that maxim, I considered the current progression and trends in the law. I thought of the rather mean-spirited environment in which legal "discourse" is currently conducted. I thought about the recent decision out of the Southern District of Georgia to end so-called "race-based admissions" at the University of Georgia.
When I first read the decision, I smiled. It is almost laughable that someone who is old enough to have witnessed and actively participated in state-sponsored separation could reason that there is no need for active state policies to reverse the impacts of that history.
But then, I took heart. Based on the judge's expressed antipathy toward "naked racial preferences" and "clear discrimination," I realized that scholarships for the children and grandchildren of UGA alumni were also invalidated. Since only whites were admitted a generation ago, those scholarships are, in fact, race-based and must be eliminated!
It seems, though, that arguing the law may not prevail in the barbershops, so I'll consider facts.
I considered the fact that the State Bar of Georgia announced it would hold its annual meeting next year in Kiawah Island, S.C. Kiawah Island is beautiful, and yet quite elitist, still shaded under the Confederate flag. I thought I should rant and rave for an entire column about the state bar's insensitivity to its African-American members and the vestiges of exclusion embodied in that decision, but then I remembered that the mid-year meeting in Atlanta will also be shaded by a Confederate flag.
Listening to my governor and several of the state legislators, black, brown and white, I have been informed that changing the official Georgia state symbol from one that embodies racism, hate and separation should not be our priority in the next (or any future) legislative session. Best I can tell, revisiting the facts of racism that exist in our state's history is too detestable and painful an idea to ever encourage a groundswell of support.
I could spend time rehearsing the facts surrounding the several images of official government brutality that have been visited on us this summer, including Texas murdering Gary Graham, and the police beating motorists in Philadelphia and Lawrence-ville, Ga. There are many other facts equally disheartening, so arguing facts will not carry the day in the pulpit.
Neither law, facts nor policy appears to be available to win the support of my community, hence I will present arguments based on the Original Legis-lator's intent.
What then could we say is the original legislative intent? The question posed is this: What is it that is required of us as professionals and as a profession? The answer: "That we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly in this world."
Within the current context of swirling injustice, blatant disregard and a lack of civil discourse, I often think about another law professor, Mel Gutterman. Professor Gutterman taught criminal law and criminal procedure.
As first-year students, we were studying the "evolution" of the death penalty in cases of felony murder. After careful analysis, it seemed to me that the application of the death penalty was driven more so by race than by fact or law. In my best-and most naïve-first-year law student voice, I asked, "Where is the justice in these decisions?"
Professor Gutterman, in his best paternal-liberal effort to protect me from years of disappointment as a practitioner of law, offered the most memorable retort of my law school career: "Mr. Hooker," he said, "you are in the wrong place-if you want justice, go to divinity school."
I realized now that Professor Gutterman and Professor Curry were both preparing me for my future barbershop conversations. They taught me to always remember the original legislative intent.
To all current and future attorneys, as you practice law and serve as ambassadors of the profession, I encourage you to never forget the original legislative intent. And if you need a standard to evaluate how well we are fulfilling that intent, let me offer this one: You will know that we have done our jobs when the Law Center for the Homeless closes its doors for lack of business instead of a lack of support; when juvenile judges are part-time; when the "disabled" are recognized and invited in as equal participants and effective, valuable contributors; when we pay more to educate than to imprison our youth; when justice flows like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream. Peace. Dah.
This essay first appeared in the Gate City Bar Association newsletter and is reprinted with permission.