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Recap of the 21st Women and the Law Conference and Ruth Bader Ginsberg Lecture

April 13, 2023

Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s 21st Women and the Law Conference, Hate Crimes: Theory, Reality, Impact, was held on Friday, March 31, 2023 at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. This conference brought together leading experts and practitioners to discuss hate crimes, with a special focus on hate crimes against women and vulnerable communities.

Distinguished Professor Sherene H. Razack, Penny Kanner Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies, UCLA, delivered the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture. Her keynote address, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: Hate Crimes or Racial Terror?, explored hate and its legal form, “hate crime,” as an explanatory concept, including how they may play a role in both highlighting racial and colonial motivations and also obscuring structural origins of violence against indigenous women. Professor Razack continued in a long line of illustrious speakers who have been honored as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer, a lecture series Justice Ginsburg generously established for Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2003.

The subsequent panel featured a lively discussion that built upon Professor Razack’s lecture.  Abigail Dillon of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office started off the panel by defining what makes a crime a “hate crime” and discussing the details of prosecuting these crimes in San Diego County.  Alicia Williams, Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of California, then elaborated on the definition of hate crimes and how they are prosecuted at a federal level.  Dorothy Alther of California Indian Legal Services, gave an impassioned presentation that discussed crimes committed on reservations, specifically by non-Indians, and the limitations of prosecuting these crimes and how that impacts native women.

Abigail Dillon was joined by Ashanti Smith of the Office of the Primary Public Defender of San Diego for the second panel of the day.  Ms. Dillon spoke on the rise of hate crimes against the AAPI community, both nationally and within San Diego specifically.  Ms. Smith brought a counterpoint to the presentations by the prosecutors and spoke about both defending clients accused of hate crimes and how her office combats prejudices held by officers that impact clients.

The final panel of the day featured representatives from organizations that support vulnerable communities.  Matthew Brown of the Anti-Defamation League discussed the trainings provided to police officers for identifying and investigating potential hate crimes.  Kim Fountain of The San Diego LGBT Community Center discussed the need for more collaboration among disenfranchised populations and explored whether the enforcement of hate crimes helps the LGBT community when the same systems may work their own forms of violence on that community.  Finally, Brother Yusef Miller of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition ended on a powerful note with a presentation regarding prejudices faced by vulnerable communities, addressing the history of hate crimes against African-Americans going back centuries as well as Islamaphobia and human trafficking as forms of hate crimes.

The panels were expertly moderated by our own Professor Emeritus Bryan Wildenthal as well as representatives from our partners, San Diego County Bar Association President Melissa Johnson (TJSL ’95), and Shannon Finley, Lawyers Club President.

The school is thankful for each presenter’s willingness to share their expertise with all of those in attendance.  A special thank you to TJSL Diversity & Inclusion Committee, Dean Linda Keller, Professor Sandra Rierson, and Professor Emeritus Julie Greenberg for their work planning this event and the student volunteers from the Women’s Law Association for their help.  Additional thanks to the San Diego County Bar Association and San Diego Lawyers Club for their partnership in supporting this event.