Penn NLG Statement on Professor Amy Wax

The Penn Law chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (Penn NLG) strongly condemns Professor Amy Wax’s recent column and subsequent comments in the Daily Pennsylvanian. In these articles, Professor Wax blames a host of societal ills on the decline of the “bourgeois values” that supposedly were dominant in the 1950s and declares the superiority of “Anglo-Protestant” culture. Professor Wax’s statements amount to an explicit and implicit endorsement of white supremacy. Silence in the face of such dangerous ideas is unacceptable–particularly when they come from someone with Professor Wax’s academic credentials.

Professor Wax’s rants are also a textbook example of how white supremacy and cultural elitism are used to denigrate the poor and sustain and justify the gross wealth inequality that defines American capitalism. This script dates back to before the founding of our country and has long served the interests of the wealthy and powerful. As Penn Law’s implicit mission is to train attorneys who will defend those same interests, we would be deluded if we expected the administration to issue any more forceful response than the tepid one issued by Dean Theodore Ruger.

We are grateful to Penn Law Professors Dorothy E. Roberts, Sarah Barringer Gordon, Serena Mayeri, Sophia Z. Lee, and Tobias Barrington Wolff for their response to Professor Wax, which eloquently demonstrates that Professor Wax’s commentary was not only offensive, but also facile and historically inaccurate. We are also grateful to the eighteen law professors, most from other universities in the Philadelphia area, who denounced Professor Wax’s racism and classism, as well as the “moral toxicity and . . .  intellectual bankruptcy” of her opinions.

Professor Wax has a long track record of making ill-informed, inflammatory, and white supremacist statements. On July 29th, less than two weeks before her column, she made a television appearance that has received less (if any) attention, in which she openly endorsed socioeconomically and racially segregated public education, arguing that segregating poor and minority students in admittedly paternalistic schools designed to inculcate them with “bourgeois values” is preferable to integration or increases in school funding. In short, Professor Wax is a segregationist. As students familiar with her work, we are not surprised to discover that Professor Wax’s nostalgia for the 1950s extends beyond the “values” she identified in her column.

While we do not challenge Professor Wax’s right to express her views, we question whether it is appropriate for her to continue to teach a required first-year course. The Penn Law administration has long been aware that her bigoted views inevitably seep into her words and actions in the classroom and in private conversations with students. We call on the administration to consider more deeply the toll that this takes on students, particularly students of color and members of the LGBTQIA community, and to consider whether it is in the best interests of the school and its students for Professor Wax to continue to teach a required first-year class. Exposure to a diversity of viewpoints is an essential and valuable part of any educational experience, but no student should have to be exposed to bigotry or abuse in the classroom.

Since Professor Wax is, as usual, scheduled to teach Civil Procedure this fall, and we know that is unlikely to change, we offer ourselves as a resource for first-year students in Professor Wax’s class. 1Ls in Professor Wax’s class: whether you need someone just to listen, to help you figure out how to get through the semester, or to advocate on your behalf, Penn NLG has your back.


Penn NLG Statement of Support for and Solidarity with our Brave Brothers and Sisters of Penn BLSA

SEPTEMBER 28, 2016 — The Penn Law Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild proudly recognizes and stands in support of the Statement of Solidarity with the Families of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, issued by Penn’s Black Law Students Association on September 22, 2016. In these times, silence is deafening. We acknowledge the courage it took to break that silence at a predominantly white, Ivy League law school. We stand in the face of injustice and declare now: We cannot, and will no longer, place the burden to speak up on the backs of people of color alone.

The endless stream of unjustifiable murders of people of color by law enforcement speaks for itself. But what video after video has captured is far deeper, far more insidious, than the individual actions of lone police officers. What we see on display is the systematic devaluation of black and brown lives. Alton Sterling did not deserve to be thrown to the ground like a lifeless doll for merely standing; Philando Castile should never have been pulled over for having a “wide-set nose”; Keith Lamont Scott did not deserve to be approached as hostile for allegedly rolling a marijuana cigarette; Terence Crutcher did nothing to be deemed “a bad dude,” and the blasé attitudes of the helicopter pilot and every other officer on the scene speak as loudly as the shots that killed him; 15-year-old Dajerria Becton did not deserve to have her neck pinned to the ground, nor did the unarmed teens around her deserve to have a gun drawn on them, simply for being present at a Texas swimming pool; caregiver Charles Kinsey did not deserve to be handcuffed while he bled out after being shot with his hands raised while trying to help defuse an unnecessary misunderstanding. The list goes on.

These videos show us the enforcement arm of an unspoken social agreement in which we are all complicit: people of color are presumed dangerous, criminal, violent, unwelcome; the onus is on them to rebut that presumption, and the burden is so high that it often costs them their lives regardless. Let us be clear: The problem is not merely “rogue cops” or individual racists; and the solution is not more cameras or better training. Police killing black people on camera is but the most visible aspect of a system that has ravaged black communities with disinvestment, criminalization, and incarceration for decades. Until we as a nation face this reality and choose to do something about it, such violence will continue.

Therefore, we speak to our fellow white citizens to say: It is your duty to speak up; it is your duty to use the access and privilege the color of your skin has given you to demand action. Political power is still disproportionately in your hands. Change therefore still requires your support. You have benefitted from a system that values white life at the expense of nonwhite—a system that allows us to normalize violence and injustices perpetrated against communities and individuals of color that we would never tolerate against our white citizens. This system has a name: it is white supremacy. And silent acceptance of white supremacy is violence.

And we speak to our fellow citizens of color to say: We stand with you in your message that enough is enough. We reject the notion that our support goes without saying. We must say it. Our action—and our visible, vocal solidarity and support—is long overdue.

In solidarity,

—National Lawyers Guild, Penn Law Chapter