Asking Why & Pursuing Justice by Hope R. Amezquita, Esq.
I grew up wondering and asking myself and others “why” often. I wanted to know why I did not know any African-Americans. I wanted to know why some people had jobs where they went to an office every day, got paid a lot of money, and took vacations while others worked longer hours in factories and could barely make ends meet. I wanted to know why that kid on the school bus told me my family should go back to the fields to work. I wanted to know why life seemed so unfair for so many different people.
Continually asking why led me on a path of civil rights activism beginning in college and continuing through law school. Granted, I always knew I was going to law school. My first grade picture in my little lawyer dress with my briefcase book bag proves that long-held aspiration. However, I believe my childhood experiences combined with learning about the laws and policies that had long held down justice in our country ultimately sealed the deal.
Learning about the struggles of women, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as the work ethic of people such as Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg continue to influence my passion for civil rights law just as they did when I was a child. I moved to Virginia after graduating from law school and I’m constantly amazed when I learn something new about the evolution of civil rights and Virginia’s role in the movement. I’m proud that when I stand in front of the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee, advocating on a civil rights bill, the chairman is Senator Henry Marsh, and for a brief moment I’m connected to such a phenomenal advocate for equality and justice.
As with most things, being a lawyer, especially a civil rights advocate, can be difficult at times. My role can be contentious and I’m not always the most liked person in the room. Similar to most lawyers I know, law school and great professors taught me to hold my head high and persevere even in the most difficult of circumstances. If the Socratic Method does anything, it definitely teaches students bravery the hard way!
Lawyers must work extremely hard and make the very best arguments even when they are not likely to be well received. The honorable individuals I’ve already mentioned were not always the most liked and their arguments were not always the most popular. However, it was the tireless advocacy and passion for justice that pushed the civil rights movement along and the efforts of those individuals are undoubtedly respected. Progress in society is always a struggle and often it is controversial, but I’ve learned that respect for those I disagree with is essential to the discussion. Respect for ourselves, for others, and for the profession is fundamental to civilized society.
I still ask “why” and “why not” quite often, because there is a lot to learn. I suppose I’ll always ask why and that is probably a pretty good thing for any advocate. Lately, I hear discussion about the lack of civility and respect in society demonstrated by how badly we can treat each other. Last year may have set a record for well publicized interruptions displayed by celebrities, politicians, and angry citizens! Maybe the general sentiment that respect in society has eroded is true, but as a relatively new lawyer, I do not believe that to be true of the legal profession. It is an honor to be a lawyer and I’m proud to be part of a profession that tirelessly emphasizes integrity and pursues justice. I’ve heard more experienced lawyers say that integrity is what you start with at the beginning of your career so keep your word, work hard, and never let your integrity erode because in the end it’s the only thing left that matters. I’m not sure where my career or life path will take me, but I understand that integrity and respect must follow.
© 2010 Hope R. Amezquita
Hope R. Amezquita is Legislative Counsel for ACLU of Virginia.Updated: Jan 26, 2010