when pigs fly … expect the unbelievable

You may have never heard of Esther Lardent.  Honestly, I had not until last week, but she is an unsung hero not only of the American Bar Association but of society as a whole.

Esther died April 4 of 2016 at age 68.  She had been employed as an American Bar Association staffer for over 40 years.

Esther was a displaced person.  She was born in Lienz, Austria, in a displaced persons camp where her parents were living.  They had met and married there after being liberated from Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen after losing their respective spouses and entire families in the camps.  For the first four years of her life, she followed her parents around Europe and Israel looking for a half-sister who had entered Auschwitz at age eight and most likely died there.  She was never found.

Esther’s family came to American through Ellis Island, speaking no English, and settled in Springfield, Massachusetts where Esther enrolled in public schools and was ultimately offered a full scholarship to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.  She went from there to the University of Chicago Law School, graduating in 1971.

Esther’s passion as a lawyer was pro bono legal services.  She often said it was her “way of paying back for all that this country has done for me and my parents.”  She founded the ABA’s Pro Bono Institute and, over the last 20 years, the institute has racked up 60 million pro bono hours from lawyers who have contributed from all over America.  Her pro bono work began when she launched one of the first organized pro bono efforts in in Boston.

Now the majority of state law associations across the country, including Mississippi, require an aspirational commitment to pro bono work from all their members.

I hope you have heard of Beth Ann Fennelly and are familiar with her work.  If not, you need to get familiar with both.  Beth Ann Fennelly is Mississippi’s 5th Poet Laureate.  I fell in love with her and her work several “Welty Symposium”s ago, when she was the featured writer.  Wow!  She read a poem about looking at the glistening torsos of the young frat boys jogging around the Oxford campus — looking at them in the rear view mirror instead of concentrating on driving, as she should have been, acknowledging that she was too old, but ogling anyway.  My kind of girl!

Introduce yourself to Beth Ann Fennelly’s work.  She has lived in Oxford with her husband, Tom Franklin, who is also a writer, and their 3 children.  The is an English Professor at Ole Miss and Director of the Masters of Fine Arts Program there.  They came to Oxford when Tom became the John and Renee Grisham writer-in-residence in 2001.  It was a nine month appointment for Tom.  There still in Oxford.

Tennessee was the only “Southern” state to ratify the 19th Amendment (although in all honesty, Mississippi had passed a Married Women’s Property  Act in the 1840s — not the same thing but just a nod to a passing fluke in Mississippi history).  Alabana did not; Georgia did not; Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia had already rejected ratification on August 18, 1920 when Tennessee acted.

Do you wonder why Tennessee stepped up to the plate?

Well, a woman was involved….

The ratification vote in the Tennessee legislature was 48 for — 48 against.  But then Representative Harry T. Burn (1885-1977), a 23 year old Republican from McMinn County roared into the legislative hall.  He was late, but the “anti-amendment” legislators breathed a sigh of relief.  Burn had vocally opposed the amendment and he would cast the deciding vote.

But a funny thing happened to Representative Burn on the way to the legislature making him late for the vote.  He stopped by the post office and picked up and opened a letter from his mother.  It said:  “Don’t forget to be a good boy and do right….”

Talk about synchronicity!

Burn took his mother’s recommendation to heart and voted in favor of the amendment.  This vote meant that the amendment was ratified.  Certification of the ratification by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby followed on August 26, 1920.

I had already graduated from law school before Representative Burn died.  I wish I had known the dramatic role he played in ratification of the 19th Amendment.  I have visited McMinn County a number of times, and I would have sought him out.  Would he have tales to tell.

He might have even known my paternal Great-Great-Grandmother, who danced at the Hermitage with General (soon to be President) Jackson.


In 20 days we can celebrate the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the US.  It occurred on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee’s ratification of the Amendment passed by one (1) vote.

Can you imagine how your life would be different if, like the ERA, the 19th Amendment had not been ratified?

Did you know that between the years of 1910 and 1918, several states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington) and the Alaska Territory extended women the vote.  And, of course, Wyoming had extended the vote to females in the 1800s and by 1876 had elected their first woman Governor.

Stay tuned to hear the inside story on Tennessee’s ratification.

There was a disparity between 3 judge panel rulings in the 5th circuit, both of which had examined abortion clinic cases and come up with a distinctly different result.  Both were on cert to the US Supreme Court, and the Court accepted the Texas case and ruled on it this week.  After it ruled on the Texas case, it denied cert on the Mississippi case.

While I will spend extra time over the weekend or early next week blogging on this, let me just say that both state legislatures were attempting to make it more difficult for women to obtain legal abortions by placing regulations on the clinic that appear not to be medically necessary.  So the Court reversed the 5th circuit’s Texas case.  State legislatures cannot “regulate” a clinic out of business in order to protect women as a pretext for simply denying a woman a right to an abortion.

More to come…

A CBS poll conducted the day after the Orlando shooting indicates that 57% of Americans want a nationwide ban on assault weapons. That’s up 13% since December of 2015.  Amazingly, the December ’15 poll, taken right after the San Bernardino shooting which killed 14 and wounded 21, marked the lowest level of public support for an assault weapons ban in 20 years of CBS poling on this issue.

Military style assault weapons, which appear to be the weapon of choice for public mass shootings in America, can hold lots of ammunition in one clip (usually 30 rounds) and can be reloaded with precision in just a few seconds.  These weapons are for killing people, not whitetail deer like we hunt in Mississippi.  A local journalist tweeted a day ago:  “My dad would have laughed in the face of any man who needed a semi-automatic weapon to hunt game.  Not a sportsman, nor a skilled hunter.”

We all know this.  NRA folks know that assault weapons are used to kill poople, not deer.  But their position is the “slippery slope” –a position many of us rail about when we fear we may lose a right we hold dear.

Democrats on the hill today attempted to bring up legislation supporting an assault weapon ban; they failed.  The last major assault weapon ban legislation was passed in 1994.  It expired in 2004 and no one seemed to notice.  Admittedly, most folks knowledgeable in both assault weapons and legislation indicated that the bill was poorly drafted and did not have the intended effect, which is why its expiration passed without much fanfare.

And then there is Donald Trump, saying that if folks at Pulse were carrying, the perpetrator would be dead at the hands of a Pulse patron and more other Pulse patrons would still be alive.  Of course, the confusion level at Pulse would have probably leveraged against the perpetrator being knocked off right away.  Fewer casualties?  We’ll never know.

I am a gun owner and have been trained in firearms technique.  And I truly believe that when you pull a gun on someone as a means of protecting yourself or others, you must be capable of shooting to kill.  Chest, chest, head. That’s what I was taught.   Always shoot 3 times.

But I don’t need a semi-automatic rifle to be a danger to myself or others.  I can do it with my 38, my car, that little chainsaw that I use for trimming the crepe myrtles; heaven knows how many other options I have.

The fact is– I don’t want to be a danger to myself or others.  And neither do most of you reading this post.

It is our culture that is at issue, not guns per se.  Do I object to a ban on assault weapons.  No.  (Well, I’d at least like to shoot one first just for grins — at a range.)  But I do object to crazy people with any type of weapon.

Looking at the mass shootings of recent years, actually starting with the Pearl school shooting, what we find is that it is the mental capacity of the shooter, not the weapon, that is the problem.

There are a lot of folks out there who have been shut out of the mental health care they need because of budget cuts — on the federal, state and local level.  I think ill people kill us — with guns or anything else they choose to use.

That is the problem to solve.

So, ladies and gentlemen, you may or may not like her, but we have a woman presidential nominee for the first time since the history of the nation.  The only thing that has come close to this in the past was in 1964 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco when Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s name was put in nomination for the GOP presidential post — being the first woman whose name was ever placed in consideration to be nominee of a national party.  Fifty-two (52) years ago.

I feel like standing on the rooftop and screaming:  “IN MY LIFETIME…”

Which leads me to my rant…

As many of you who follow this blog know, I am a lawyer.  And after I fought my own battles in the ’70s and ’80s, in the ’90s I felt like I had the time and expertise to try to give back to younger women lawyers if they expressed a desire for my help and advice.  I have always found this an extremely pleasurable experience.  In a field that still remains a “man’s” — I see these young women taking natural strides to become bar leaders in the twenty-first century.

But here is what I learned while I was trying to mentor these incredibly bright young women.  What they didn’t know…..

They didn’t know that there was not a woman in the US Congress until 1916 (Jeannette Rankin, who voted against going to both WWI and WWII); that there was not a woman Governor of a state until 1922 (Nellie Tayloe Ross, WY); that there was not a woman US Senator until 1931 (Hallie Carraway); that there was not a woman presidential cabinet member until 1933 (Frances Perkins); that there was not a woman US Supreme Court Justice until 1981 (Sandra Day O’Connor); and that there was not a woman Speaker of the US House of Representatives until 2007 (Nancy Pelosi).

Moreover, they didn’t know that in 1873 our US Supreme Court ruled that married women can be excluded from practicing law; that the term “feminism” didn’t exist until 1911;  that the first birth control clinic in the US was established in 1916; that the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced into Congress in 1923; that women could not serve in the military until 1942; that women were not “allowed” by the US Supreme Court to serve on juries until 1947; that birth control pills were not approved for sale in the US until 1960; that the Civil Rights Act and Title VII, which prohibit employment discrimination based on (among other things”) sex, was not adopted until 1964 — nor that the the Senator who amended the legislation to add “sex” intended for this addition to cause the legislation to fail.

They don’t know that the US Supreme Court didn’t rule that married couples could use birth control until 1965; that the first state in the US to legalize abortion was California, in 1967; that MS Magazine debuted in 1971; that Title IX was passed in 1972, prohibiting sex discrimination in public education; that Roe v. Wade granted all women in the US abortion rights in 1973; that in 1973 the US Supreme Court ordered a ban on sex categorizing in newspaper employment ads; that in 1974 the Equal Credit Opportunity Act forbade sexual discrimination in the credit industry (before that, your mom or grandmom — if lucky enough to have credit in her own name — used the name of Mrs. Tom Jones, not Lucy Jones); that in 1975 the US Supreme Court ruled that states MUST allow women jurors; that the US military academies opened admission to women in 1976; or that Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 to prohibit job discrimination against pregnant women.

They didn’t know that in 1981 the US Supreme Court ruled that women could be excluded from military draft; that in 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space; that in 1984, the Supreme Court forbade sex discrimination in social and other organizations (Jaycees, Rotary, etc.); that a hostile work environment was not recognized to qualify as sex discrimination until 1986; that the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993; that in 1994, obstruction of an abortion clinic became a federal crime; that in 1996 both the Citadel and Virginia Military Academy (VMI) had to begin to admit women..and that was only 20 years ago.

X-ers and Millennials just don’t know how really recent and hard fought are the things that they take for granted.  They don’t realize that America is one Supreme Court Justice away from outlawing abortions in this country.

So as much as I want to see a woman president of the United States in my lifetime, I also want to see a group of X-ers and Millennials who understand and appreciate the fight that continues for their rights and for mine.

Ladies, DO NOT TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.  Get involved.

August 2016
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