Dahlia Lithwick’s Lady Justice: Women, the Law and the Battle to Save America is both a history of women and the law in America and the stories of women who took on the Trump administration after 2016. Lithwick writes for Slate and is the host of the Amicus podcast. She is a lawyer, but she has worked in journalism for over twenty years. Her writing is accessible, the reader, or listener doesn’t have to be legally trained to appreciate this book. You really just need to be interested in our justice system.
The lawyers who are described in the book as a rule are and were institutionalists, meaning they believed that the justice system works and is the appropriate path for upholding civil rights and seeking redress against injustice. The book begins in the first days of the Trump administration, when Trump announced a Muslim ban. Sally Yates, was the acting US Attorney General, however, the administration did not vet the ban through the Justice Department. After reviewing the ban Yates publicly testified that the DOJ could not enforce the ban, that it was unconstitutional and violated civil rights laws. She was promptly fired. The ban was initially rejected by federal courts, however, ultimately a watered down version was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Lithwick focuses on efforts in the courtroom: immigrants rights, abortion access, civil damages against the Charlotteville white supremicists. She features Stacy Abrams efforts to get out the vote in Georgia and Anita Hill and Christine Blase Ford. She also covers the #MeToo movement’s impact on the courts in bringing about the resignation of 9th Circuit judge Kozinski. Kozinski, the author of many a clever opinion (See Mattel Inc v MCA Records) Kozinski was a great example of a powerful man well known for inappropriate behavior such as sharing online porn, suggestive remarks to women employees. Women clerks (including Lithwick at the time) kept his secret because of his access to power. A clerkship with Kozinski was often a pathway to a supreme court clerkship, Kavenaugh being a primary example. This is a dilemma women have faced for years, and coming forward often comes at an enormous cost, as Hill and Ford can attest. “Being told you are believed without consequences being levied is neither justice nor power. And that is the real problem when women’s pain is substituted for actual justice. Pain seems to have a sell-by date. Justice does not.”
This book was published shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. So despite the inspiring stories in Lady Justice, one could argue that women are losing the legal battle. Lithwick doesn’t minimize the impact of Dobbs but keeps the faith.
“Women have come so far in a few decades, and the law, even with its flaws and its anachronisms, has been a quiet, persistent source of order and meaning in a world that feels ever more out of our control. It’s been a source of power beyond just rage. We have a long way to go, the road will be bumpy, and the destination still feels less than clear. But women plus law equals magic; we prove that every day.”
I’m not sure about the word “magic,” but she is exhorting women not to give up hope, to continue to utilize legal institutions and to continue to push for justice. Giving up is not an option.