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Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003

leslieprollLeslie Proll, Senior Staff Attorney, NAACP Legal Defense

Leslie Proll is the senior staff attorney of the Washington, DC office of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. Founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, the Legal Defense Fund is the nations oldest civil rights legal organization. Ms. Proll is a civil rights litigator who practiced law in Birmingham, Alabama before joining the Legal Defense Fund. She has litigated numerous cases in the areas of fair housing, employment discrimination, voting rights and higher education desegregation. She served as a law clerk to Chief Judge Sam C. Pointer of the Northern District of Alabama. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and of the University of California at Davis School of Law. Currently, she monitors federal judicial nominations for a number of national civil rights organizations.

Moderator: Welcome.
Leslie Proll: Hello, I am happy to participate today to discuss the role of civil rights issues in federal judicial nominations. Todays Supreme Court decisions in the affirmative action cases provide a great example of how important the federal judiciary is to the progress of civil rights in this country.
posted:6/23/2003 1:29:00 PM CST

Pauline: What are the implications of todays Supreme Court decisions on the University of Michigans affirmative action program in the law and undergraduate programs for affirmative action programs at other universities?
Leslie Proll: Todays decision in the Grutter case is a historic reaffirmation by the Supreme Court of the importance of diversity in our educational system and beyond. The Court solidified its decision twenty-five years ago in Bakke and made clear that the consideration of race is constitutionally permissible. It will go a long way to ensuring equal educational opportunity for all minority students.
posted:6/23/2003 1:56:00 PM CST

Sarah: Are there any civil rights cases that the lower courts, or even the SC decided that will have a negative impact on civil rights?
Leslie Proll: Cases decided by the Supreme Court and the circuit courts of appeals, in particular, have a tremendous impact on civil rights law. Todays decision by the Court to uphold affirmative action programs at educational institutions is a prime example. This is a very positive decision. However, the Supreme Court has adversely impacted civil rights in recent history as well. The Supreme Courts decisions over the last ten years to invalidate portions of various civil rights statutes in the name of States Rights have meant that civil rights plaintiffs are unable to seek redress from the courts. The circuit courts, which end up deciding much of the civil rights case law, also have the potential for issuing extremely damaging rulings.
posted:6/23/2003 2:00:00 PM CST

James : How will you include African-Americans in the upcoming campaigns?
Leslie Proll: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund monitors federal judicial nominations from a civil rights perspective. We work with a number of other national African American groups, such as the NAACP, the Urban League, the Black Leadership Forum, Rainbow/Push and the Congressional Black Caucus in ensuring that the Senate confirms only nominees with a demonstrated commitment to the progress this country has made in civil rights. We are always eager to include more national, state and local groups in our efforts.
posted:6/23/2003 2:06:00 PM CST

elizabeth: what do you think about todays supreme court decision?
Leslie Proll: I think todays Supreme Court opinion is a clear and broad victory for supporters of affirmative action. In connection with our discussion, it also points up the importance of the composition of the Supreme Court. The winning decision was a 5-4 vote, and it shows what a difference a judge makes. In fact, the Sixth Circuit opinion which reached the same conclusion and which the Supreme Court was reviewing, was also decided by onevote.
posted:6/23/2003 2:08:00 PM CST

Jeremy: How are Bushs judicial nominees on civil rights issues your organization is concerned about? What nominees have you opposed and/or supported?
Leslie Proll: President Bush has nominated many persons who have troubling records on civil rights. This is true whether they are a sitting judge or practicing law at the time of nomination. One example is Charles Pickering, nominated to the Fifth Circuit, which has the highest percetage of minorities in the country. Pickering questioned fundamental voting rights principles, ruled against almost every employment discrimination victim coming before him, and took extraordinary steps to reduce the sentence of a crossuburner prosecuted by the Department of Justice. President Bush has also nominated persons with troubling records to the the Fourth Circuit, known as the most conservative court in the country. Dennis Shedd, a Strom Thumond protege, and Terrence Boyle, a Jesse Helms protege, were both troubling nominees.
posted:6/23/2003 2:12:00 PM CST

Liza: Could you talk about why cases that seem to mostly affect people of color are important for other oppressed groups?
Leslie Proll: This is an excellent question. The Legal Defense Fund has always taken the position that progress in civil rights, as well as setbacks in civil rights, affect all persons protected by all civil rights laws. Founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, we are the nations first civil rights law firm, and we have helped to establish other legal defense funds for other communities. Our litigation and our policy work is premised on the need to advance civil rights laws generally. For example, the narrowing of the definition of discriminatory intent in a gender case will have an impact on race cases as well. We often weigh in on cases involving all forms of discrimination because we understand what is at stake. The same may be said about our work on judicial nominations. If a nominee has a troubling record on civil rights generally, that is problematic for us.
posted:6/23/2003 2:21:00 PM CST

Lucy: Besides affirmative action, what are some civil rights issues in jeopardy?
Leslie Proll: There is a very dangerous jurisprudential movement known as federalism or States rights. This seeks to narrow Congresss power under the Constitution to protect individual rights, and to promote the rights of the States. A number of Supreme Court decisions in the past several years have eliminated the ability of victims of State-sponsored discrimination to receive redress for those injuries. This means that such victims cannot even get into court with a discriminatoin claim.
posted:6/23/2003 2:28:00 PM CST

Jan: I have heard that nominees who are bad on one set of progressive issues are usually bad on a whole range of issues. How is your organization working in coalition with groups working on other issues?
Leslie Proll: Unfortunately, there are several nominees who have proven this true. We work with a coalition of other civil rights groups, womens groups, environmental groups, and labor groups in our efforts. Our collaborative efforts include researching the records of nominees and educating our respective communities about these records, and more generally, the importance of the judicial selection process to protecting our rights.
posted:6/23/2003 2:36:00 PM CST

Arlie: A recent report from the U.S. Census Buereau shows that for the first time, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S.. With this in mind, how do you think demographic trends in the U.S. will change the work of civil rights groups like the NAACP in the coming decade?
Leslie Proll: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has always worked collaboratively with civil rights groups working in the Latino communities. In fact, we helped to establish the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund in the late 1960s. I think the changing demographics will require even more collaboration with Latino and other minority communities on issues such as voting rights and school desegregation. These efforts are well underway in our work in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, where our offices are located, and elsewhere around the country.
posted:6/23/2003 2:43:00 PM CST

Anna: Theres been a lot of talk about the proposed change in the Senate rules that would stop the Democrats ability to filibuster right-wing judicial nominees. Are there any good legal reasons to keep the filibuster out of executive business?
Leslie Proll: The filibuster has long been available as a tool in the Senate, and has been used in judicial nominations. Recall how civil rights laws were filibusterd by Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. Just as hearings and votes by the Judiciary Committee are part of the Senates advise and consent consideration of judicial nominees, the Senate should have available to it the many rules accompanying the full Senates consideration of a nominee. As Senator Robert Byrd stated in recent hearings before the Senate Rules Committee, we should be extremely leary of changing longstanding Senate rules just based on the wishes, and agenda, of a particular Administration.
posted:6/23/2003 2:46:00 PM CST

Eve: What factors do you take into consideration when evaluating a nominees record?
Leslie Proll: As a civil rights organization, we are particularly interested in a nominees civil rights record. If the nominee is a sitting judge, we will review that nominees civil rights record or any other materials that will indicate his or her commitment to the progress we have made in civil rights.
posted:6/23/2003 2:56:00 PM CST

Emilia: How long do you think it will be before todays ruling starts negatively impacting the number of minorites on college campuses? Also what can University students do to let their administrators know that a diverse campus is an essential aspect of the learning experience?
Leslie Proll: I am certain there will be much information forthcoming from our organization and other civil rights organizations on where we go from the Michigan decisions. Frankly, we are still digesting the opinions and considering all of their ramifications. You are correct that students can play a critical role in the afermath as they did in the litigation of the case. (I hope you know that the student-signed amicus brief was the largest number of signatories ever to sign one amicus brief in the Supreme Courts history.) I urge you to stay tuned.
posted:6/23/2003 2:58:00 PM CST

Moderator: Thank you for joining us today. I encourage you to take action now to protect our rights. For more information about the courts and getting involved visit either the NAACP LDF website at or the Feminist Majority’s Million4Roe campaign site at We hope you will join us again for our continuing June chat series, “Supreme Court in Peril.”
Leslie Proll: Thank you for allowing me to chat with you today, which is truly a historic day in Supreme Court jurisprudence. I urge you to maintain your interest in federal judicial nominations, and to remember how important the issue is to protecting our civil rights.
posted:6/23/2003 3:02:00 PM CST

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