Book Review of Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick



When I first opened Dahlia Lithwick’s”Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America“I wasn’t sure if it was coming out at the worst possible time, or at the best. Lithwick, Slate’s senior legal correspondent, is arguably the most influential and thought-provoking legal journalist in progressive circles, and “Lady Justice” is a retrospective look at the power of female lawyers under the Trump administration. In the midst of one of the darkest periods in modern American history, the book is essentially saying that women stepped up, used the law to fight back, and saved our collective bacon. Which at almost any time in the past two years would have been a welcome reminder of all the good that can happen in the face of extreme adversity, and a crucial contribution to our understanding of the Trump administration and how Americans behaved in response to his deadly sins.

Except, of course, this book is published in September 2022 and went to press right after the Supreme Court overturned it. Roe vs. Wade, which has unleashed a cascade of laws criminalizing abortion, stripping many American women of sovereignty over our bodies and most intimate choices, and by extension the ability to fully determine our own future. Half a century of progress has been reversed when public opinion Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been published, along with decades of feminist legal advocacy. As I turned Lithwick’s pink-covered book in my hands and read the text on the back (which, at least on my first copy, promised a “compelling and heroic story of women lawyers who fought against racism, sexism and Donald Trump’s xenophobia presidency — and won”), I felt my chest deflate. But we just lostI thought.

Luckily, I had the common sense (and professional obligation) to read “Lady Justice.” And while I suspect that the publication of this book at the very moment that American women have had a basic civil right taken away by a cabal of reactionary anti-feminist judges is not Lithwick’s timing, by the time I am at the end of the book, I was sufficiently convinced that it is not only an important historical document but a necessary guide at present to at least some of the paths to follow afterDobbs. Lithwick’s book insists that there is simply no time for the sense of helplessness currently felt by so many pro-choicers, feminists and those who don’t believe a fetus should have more rights than a woman.

In other words, “Lady Justice” is right on time.

The abortion rights cases end Lithwick’s argument, and although she wrote most of the book before the Dobbs decision, desperation and urgency of this moment permeate the text. The 2016 pleading in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedtafter which the Supreme Court issued an opinion confirming and reaffirming Roe vs. Wade, was, Lithwick writes in the first line of the book, “the last great day for women and the legal system in America”. And this is the crux of his argument: that if a legal system is not one that treats women fairly and equitably, and in which women participate equally, then it is not a legal system that is fair or equal; that female lawyers, inherently part of our history as outsiders and frankly often victims of a male-ruled legal system, are uniquely positioned to harness the power of the law for good; and that there is no justice without gender equality, and no one understands how important legal protections are – and the limits of those protections – as much as American women and other groups who have found themselves in apart from the promise of freedom from the law and justice for all.

If this book had come out six months ago, it would have been easy to read as a throwback, a sort of essential story of four chaotic years that felt like a thousand, and how so many women came to our collective rescue — while others have participated in endangering the nation. But coming as it does at this particular time, when any semblance of normality brought about by the refreshingly boring Biden administration has been shattered by an unprecedented rollback in rights and progress, “Lady Justice” is a less rosy historical glimpse. and a more moving strategy document.

Although Lithwick focuses on female lawyers and their accomplishments, How? ‘Or’ What these lawyers do their work varies widely, opening up a vast landscape of potential actions – and making it clear that the most important battles are won by attacks on multiple fronts. There are the silent institutionalists whose loyalty to the rule of law calls them to improbable heroism; there are the rule breakers who do not revere the legal system but make it their mission to bend unequal laws toward justice; there are the visionaries who, instead of responding to what is, set to work to build what could be.

In other words, there’s no one recipe for Lady Lawyer in “Lady Justice.” But there’s an invitation: while each of the women Lithwick profiles has done extraordinary things, none of them are revered as superheroes She-Hulk; each is written as a human being, their work put into context and made something as attainable. The guideline of all their work is less the law itself and more a knack for organizing others to come forward as a collective force, with the power, writes Lithwick, of “first principles and lofty ideas” behind it. them. Each of these women, writes Lithwick, needed other women behind her to accomplish what she did. And each of them, Lithwick suggests, could be you too – if you follow your instincts, have a sharp moral conscience and put in the work.

Some of the women featured in “Lady Justice” are names you’ve heard: Sally Yates, Stacey Abrams, Christine Blasey Ford. Others, however, fomented mass movements and set in motion major change without ever becoming the public face of their victories. Remember when lawyers swarmed US airports to provide emergency legal advice to travelers from Muslim-majority countries listed in what became Trump’s Muslim ban? For that, you can thank Becca Heller, a young Yale law graduate who has made a career of seeing holes in the system, filling them, and bending the rules when necessary. (“I think a lot of the law is completely ridiculous,” Heller tells Lithwick. “I mean, for me, getting a law degree is just about using the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house. “) Heller, who founded an organization that helps law students use their budding skills to help refugees, was told that the Muslim ban was imminent. And then she rallied the troops, creating Google docs on all major airports and asking lawyers to come forward. “The lawyers on the list could have been tax lawyers or real estate lawyers, Heller didn’t care,” Lithwick writes.

And then a group of older, more experienced lawyers and advocates, mostly men, told him to stand down, that a compromise was coming and that rounding up lawyers at the airport would anger the government. Heller told his people to take a break. But it turned out that she was right all along: the government was not allowing entry to holders of valid visas from the targeted countries, and people stranded at airports and sent back on planes from the United States. United needed lawyers, stat.

Heller and his comrades saved many people from being wrongfully deported. They also fought the government in court, and while Trump’s Muslim ban never fully disappeared during his administration, some of the worst aspects of the law were eventually removed. And the legal battles have opened up valuable windows for travelers to legally enter the United States.

Lithwick, like Heller, is not blinded by the law or unaware of its limits. But she is a keen observer of those who use her – those who use her for good, but also those they fight against, who have also worked (mostly) within the confines of the legal system to beef up the results in their own ideology. foster. Some of those people, she notes, are also women — it’s a strongly feminist story, but it’s not about a Girl Power wellness slogan.

At the end of “Lady Justice”, and against the backdrop of a Supreme Court determined to roll back women’s rights and freedoms, Lithwick writes that “we have a long way to go, the road will be bumpy and the destination always seems less than clear. She’s right. But luckily for us, she drew a great map.

Jill Filipovic is a journalist, lawyer and author of “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Was Left Behind.”

Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America

Penguin Press. 350 pages. $29

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