Katherine “Kate” Brown

Lewis & Clark Law School Commencement Address - May 27, 2017

Katherine “Kate” Brown
May 27, 2017— Lewis & Clark Law School, Portland, Oregon
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Thank you so very much. Good morning everyone and congratulations to our graduates. We are so very proud of you.

I am deeply, deeply honored to be here today. Thank you to Dean Jennifer Johnson and the law school administration for inviting me to return home.

I loved being a student here. As you graduates have discovered, this is truly a special place, a place where through a special mixture of adrenaline, terror and perspiration you are transformed from a regular person into a lawyer.

Today as newly minted lawyers, you will take the first steps down the path toward your future.

But before you do, take just a moment to look around at your classmates. You all came here from 36 states and 16 countries in pursuit of a law degree or Master's of Law—and these degrees you have earned—but you take something else with you today, something equally precious and hard-won—good friends.

The friendships you have made in law school are likely to be the most profound and long-standing relationships of your life. I know they are for me. Why? Because law school is the crucible that formed you into who you are today. As your classmate Amanda Gomm said, you kind of go through the fire together and you understand the same trauma. That fire changes us.

Anita Hill swears law school fundamentally changed how she thinks, how she solves problems and how she sees the world. Writer Charles Morgan famously said if Moses had gone to Harvard Law School and spent three years on the Hill, he would have written the Ten Commandments with three exceptions and a savings clause.

Your legal education has prepared you well, and if the Ten Commandments aren't up for revision, there's still plenty of opportunity to pursue a life of meaningful work. In fact, I'd say you're fully capable of changing the world. Please do. You depart these halls today into a world that desperately needs your brains, your energy and your dedication to create a more ethical, compassionate and inclusive society.

Lately Americans have learned firsthand and in disconcerting ways the importance of the judicial branch in protecting and serving the public good. When the executive branch unlawfully banned traveled to the United States by people from a number of Muslim countries, who overturned it? A court of law. When the executive branch sought to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities, who shut it down? A court of law.

It begs the question when our president tweeted, "See you in court." I wonder if he meant so many courts, so soon.

The new administration faces a whole host of real and threatened court challenges to a range of new policies, from rollbacks of clean air and water regulations to religious liberty protections. With Congress seemingly unable or unwilling to influence or oppose many of these policies, the courts are in reality our only hope of protecting the public good.

It comes down to this. Today's political superheroes, the ones fighting the good fight and often winning, are—take a guess—attorneys. Yes, attorneys. Maybe a law degree should come with a sparkly suit or at least a cape. Because as we see almost daily, the fight for justice never ends.

Unfortunately there is no shortage of discrimination and inequity in the world. You simply need to choose which worthy the cause to fight for.

A great example is your classmate Tessa Copeland. Tessa came to Lewis & Clark for its animal law program, which like environmental law and other specialties here, is outstanding. But Tessa discovered an even greater passion with other Lewis & Clark law students, she volunteered at the Dilley detention center in Texas, working with women and children seeking asylum in the United States. Women and their children can be incarcerated for months while their asylum cases wander through the immigration system.

In their countries, some of these women suffered severe abuse, death threats and other traumas. They dare not go home. Most arrive at the Dilley center severely sleep-deprived. Many suffer from PTSD. They worry about making their case, especially in front of a male asylum officer. They do not want to relive their past traumas, particularly in front of their children. These women have credible, compelling stories to tell, but as Tessa says, they don't often realize it. Her job was to be their advocate, to help draw those stories out of them, to help prepare them for the make-or-break interviews with asylum officers who would determine their fate and the fate of their children.

Back at Lewis & Clark, Tessa has continued to volunteer remotely, doing such things as making sure that data are entered correctly—because anything incorrect on an asylum application can cause a lengthy delay or a denial. Through this experience, Tessa learned firsthand that one person can affect meaningful change. As she said, the JD is that powerful tool you can use to make a difference in the world. I'm very proud that Tessa plans to become an immigration lawyer focusing on asylum seekers and victims of violence.

My Oregon, our Oregon, must be a welcoming and inclusive place for all. As you know, it hasn't always been this way. It wasn't until 1912, 53 years after Oregon's founding, that women were finally able to exercise our right to vote. And while I was in law school, there was just one woman on the Oregon Supreme Court—one. And even though I didn't think I would ever become a judge—and still don't, for the record—it was really important to me that she was there. She was my beacon of hope.

Her name was Betty Roberts and her courage, grace and grit inspire me to this very day. After completing her master's degree in 1962, Betty applied for but was rejected by the political science doctoral program at the University of Oregon. The chair of the department told her that at 39 years old, she was way too old and that taxpayers wouldn't get back their investment in her education. So she decided to become a lawyer.

A few years after I was born, she started law school at Lewis & Clark's night program. At the time, she was also raising four children, teaching high school and running for the Oregon legislature. All on her own, she won that legislative seat. She spent the next several years fighting gender discrimination, working to protect Oregon's environment and starting her own successful law practice. In 1974, she ran for governor and lost in the primary to Bob Straub. That same year, Oregon Democrats nominated her to face Bob Packwood in the race for the U.S. Senate. She lost for a second time that year.

These could have been soul-crushing defeats. Not for this woman of grace and grit and incredible moxie. Three years later, Governor Bob Straub, her former opponent, called and asked to have her serve on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She became the first woman to serve on that Court. Given her esteemed political and legal career, you think she would have earned respect on the bench as well. Not so. For her entire first year, she was ostracized by all of her male colleagues and the entire court staff. What incredible isolation and loneliness she must have felt. What courage it must have taken for her to go to work every single day. Yet Justice Roberts persisted and her hard work was recognized by the next governor.

In our entire state's history, there had been 82 associate justices on the Oregon Supreme Court. All had been men. Governor Vic Atiyeh changed that. He appointed Justice Roberts to the Oregon Supreme Court, making her the first woman in Oregon history to serve on our state's highest court. Her tenure was extremely successful. She was highly respected by all of her colleagues, she authored a number of insightful opinions that bent the arc of justice and she gave women like me hope that someday and in some way there would be a place at the table and on the bench for all of us. She retired from the Oregon Supreme Court the year I started practicing law.

Yes, progress—especially institutional progress—comes too slowly, if you ask me. Take for instance one of the first bills I signed into law as your governor. It guarantees Oregon children all-day kindergarten. I did so in March of 2015, 50 years after Betty Roberts advocated for it in the Oregon legislature in 1965. And in a few days from now I look forward to signing into law the groundbreaking pay equity bill. House bill 2005 establishes better protections to eliminate the gender pay gap and it makes great strides toward a more equitable and prosperous Oregon.

And for the first time in our state's 158-year history, women will soon become the majority on our state's highest court. I have appointed Judge Rebecca Duncan to the Oregon Supreme Court. She will join three other women justices, two of whom I have appointed, currently serving on our seven-member court.

I would like to thank that Justice Betty Roberts would be very proud of the progress that we continue to make. Justice Roberts is an important hero in Oregon's history, but you—you are the heroes of Oregon's future. We—our state and our nation—we need you. We need fighters for justice in and out of the courtroom.

So as your governor, I hereby charge you as the next generation of advocates, leaders and problem solvers to be ethical, be compassionate, be courageous and fight for justice in all that you do.

Thank you and congratulations.