2/17/2021 Staff

Rebellious Lawyering Against the U.S. Security State: From the Street to the Supreme Court

  • Ramzi Kassem

An F&M Net ID is required to view the recording of this event.

Ramzi Kassem
Professor of Law at the City University of New York and Founding Director of Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility

On October 6, 2020, Ramzi Kassem, Professor of Law at the City University of New York, argued the landmark civil rights case Tanzin v. Tanvir before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case tested the limits of the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act. In December, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs—three American Muslim men—could seek monetary compensation from individual FBI agents for damages due to their placement on the No-Fly List when they refused to spy on their religious communities. Their placement on the No-Fly List cost them the ability to see immediate family members abroad and their livelihoods as well.

During this Common Hour event, presented in an interview format, Kassem will speak about his experience arguing a civil rights case before the Supreme Court, other aspects of his work, as well as the journey that led him there. The event will also bring into relief the concept and practice of “rebellious lawyering,” a term coined by UCLA Professor of Law Emeritus Gerald López, to name an approach that aims to bridge the gap between legal training and an activist law practice in service of social justice. Kassem’s work exemplifies that sort of practice in resisting rights violations by the U.S. security state.

Kassem is the founding director of the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility or CLEAR Clinic at CUNY School of Law. CLEAR works with clients, communities, and movements caught in the crosshairs of the sprawling U.S. security state. With his students, Kassem brought Raza v. City of New York, helping to negotiate an historic settlement restricting the NYPD’s unconstitutional surveillance of religious and political activity. Kassem has also represented prisoners incarcerated without fair process at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, and other secret or disclosed U.S. facilities worldwide. CLEAR’s work is especially remarkable for partnering with communities and movements. The program is unique for offering, all free of charge, “know-your-rights” workshops and support for community organizing to help Muslim and other groups self-advocate against infringements on their rights by law enforcement agencies. Most recently, CLEAR has applied its legal and community-organizing expertise to provide legal representation and support for Movement 4 Black Lives, a coalition of Black-led grassroots organizations. CLEAR and M4BL co-created an online resource for activists and protesters to resist infiltration by law enforcement and white supremacists. Such community- and movement-grounded work redefines our understanding of how lawyers can work in movements to advance racial justice outside courtrooms. For his paradigm-shifting approach to social justice, Kassem was named one of 12 Freedom Scholars by the Marguerite Casey Foundation in 2020.

This event was proposed by Nina Bond and is sponsored by Middle East and North Africa Coalition; departments of Government and Religious Studies, Charles and Barbara Kahn fund; the Arabic program; F&M ACLU; John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society; and the John Appel - Public Affairs Lecture Fund (PALF).


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