Women in the Law

Margaret Brent Honorees Warn That Economic and Political Changes Could Undo Achievements


Left to Right: Amy W. Schulman, Marcia Devins Greenberger, Mary B. Cranston, Arlinda Locklear, Joan M. Hall, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. Photo by Kathy Anderson

At Sunday’s 22nd annual Margaret Brent Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon, honoring women whose pathbreaking legal careers set them apart, there was sometimes an edge to the usual acknowledgment that more needs to be done when it comes to gender equity and ending discrimination.

Two of this year’s five recipients pointed to economic and political changes in recent years that threaten to undo some important achievements.

All tables were full for the luncheon in a capacious ballroom at the Hyatt Regency hotel, in what has long been one of the more significant networking events at the ABA’s Annual Meeting.

Award recipient Arlinda Locklear is Native American and has spent her entire professional career, beginning in 1976, litigating, lobbying and otherwise fighting for Native American rights, including two Supreme Court victories.

In her acceptance speech, Locklear told the gathering that for the past 100 years when Native Americans faced hostility from state and local governments, the Congress and the courts–particularly the Supreme Court–had been their ally.

But now, she said, “those rights are the subject of negotiation and barter,” adding that “Our clients now at all costs avoid that court.”

Locklear said spending her early years in the Native American community, before her father’s Navy assignments took them elsewhere, let her “witness and experience the pain and humiliation” of discrimination and sparked her interest in righting such wrongs.

First at the Native American Rights Fund, mostly in Washington, D.C., and now as a sole practitioner there, Locklear has represented tribal nations in federal matters. She was the first Native American woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1984 she won in Solem v. Bartlett, which said South Dakota could not prosecute an Indian for a crime committed on the reservation.

Most significantly, in 1985 the high court in Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida agreed with Locklear’s argument that federal common law should permit tribes to sue for land taken from them in violation of federal law. That case remains the basis for subsequent land-claim litigation.

“I’ve had the great benefit to make a living at my passion,” Locklear said. See her tribute video.

Award recipient Marcia Devins Greenberger’s first job out of law school was as a tax lawyer in a big firm’s Washington, D.C. office. But she left private practice to create and be director of the Women’s Rights Project in the Center for Law and Social Policy. The project grew to the point that it became a stand-alone organization in 1981 as the National Women’s Law Center, which has been a leader in litigating and lobbying for women’s legal rights.

The NWLC’s work was instrumental in, among other efforts, the Affordable Care Act’s provision against sex discrimination in health care; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Greenberger told the gathering that tight economic times are hitting women harder than their fair share in a number of areas, such as proposed legislation that would raise taxes for those with low incomes who are eligible for the child tax credit.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Greenberger said. See her tribute video.

Other Margaret Brent Award honorees this year were:

Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice of the California Supreme Court. She is a second-generation Filipino-American and in 1990 at age 31 became the youngest person appointed to the state trial bench. See her tribute video.

• Joan M. Hall, who began a long career at Chicago’s Jenner & Block in 1965 and was instrumental in the firm’s openness to women lawyers. See her tribute video.

• Amy W. Schulman, who was a senior partner at DLA Piper before becoming general counsel in 2008 at Pfizer Inc. , where she created the Pfizer Legal Alliance for alternatives to the billable hour and is executive sponsor of Pfizer’s Global Women’s Council to increase diversity and opportunities. See her tribute video.

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