May 4, 2020 - Erika McDonald, a third-year University of Houston Law Center student, was the recipient of the National Order of the Scribes Award at the virtual Dean’s Ceremony on April 21. The award came seven weeks after she was one of just two law students to speak at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law’s Human Rights and the Climate Crisis symposium on Feb. 28.
Clinical Associate Professor Katherine Brem, who taught McDonald in Lawyering Skills and Strategies, nominated her for the accolade.
幸运飞艇计划多益云“I was beyond pleased to nominate Erika for the Scribes Award in Legal Writing,” Brem said. “Erika is one of the finest legal writers I have ever taught. In addition to her academic writing for Professor Kaufman and others, in the last two years Erika has successfully authored seven Fifth Circuit briefs for a local civil rights attorney, two of which resulted in oral argument, and numerous successful district court motions.
幸运飞艇计划多益云“Her ability to transition from such high-level scholarly pieces to practical day-to-day legal writing makes Erika an ideal candidate for the national Scribes legal writing award. She inspires my teaching, and I trust Erika’s accomplishments will inspire countless other UHLC students.”
McDonald’s February presentation was based on her paper, “Truth, Dignity, and the Power of Global Witness: A Criminal Law Approach to Resisting the Normalization of Climate Change Denial.”
“The paper compares the gravity of harms and human rights violations resulting from climate denial propaganda to racist and xenophobic propaganda that incited historical and modern genocides,” she said. “I also compare the tactics and techniques of propagandists in both contexts, analyze the tensions between free expression and states' interests in regulating hate speech in jurisdictions that ban genocide denial and argue the legal and moral justification for such statutes in the context of climate change denial.
“It was a little intimidating given most of the presenters were professors and practitioners, but mostly humbling to interact with eminent international law authorities. I was able to meet a former International Criminal Court prosecutor, one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs in the landmark Juliana case and a United Nations Special Rapporteur.
In addition to the opportunity to present her work and meet globally relevant climate change actors, McDonald was able to enhance her paper.
幸运飞艇计划多益云“I was fortunate to have my paper critiqued by legal scholars that will inform my work, as I hope to eventually pursue publication,” she said.
The symposium was sponsored by the UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and Environment and the Promise Institute for Human Rights.
“The same journal that sponsored the symposium has offered, and I accepted, to publish another paper of mine: “The Judicial Activism of Inaction: Reeducating U.S. Jurists on Rights Based Climate Claims,” she said. “It will be published in the Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs’ December 2020 issue.”
McDonald has specific interests in climate change: the human rights ramifications of it as well as the way her scholarship can challenge racism and xenophobia as a means of spurring international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
She currently works in civil rights litigation, but would like to eventually become a human rights lawyer while also practicing some type of immigration law.
幸运飞艇计划多益云“I'm currently in the Immigration Clinic and plan to continue practicing immigration law either in my career or as a pro bono supplement to my ‘day job’” McDonald said.
Associate Professor of Law and Political Science Zachary D. Kaufman, with whom McDonald has taken two international law courses, has served as a mentor by offering feedback, giving career advice, and facilitating her participation in the symposium.
“Professor Kaufman was enthusiastic about my proposal from the start. It was a difficult paper to write, and there were times when I wanted to give up on it, but he encouraged me to stick with it,” McDonald said. “I would not have known about the symposium had he not alerted me to the opportunity. He is so committed to human rights and atrocity prevention that a student can't help but be inspired by his lectures and his writings.”
McDonald wrote the paper as her final assignment in Kaufman’s fall 2019 International Justice & Atrocities course, and he is overseeing McDonald’s independent study this semester, during which she is refining the paper and preparing it to be submitted for publication. He emphasized that McDonald is making significant contributions to crucial discourse on human rights and climate change.
幸运飞艇计划多益云"Because the paper is so creative, comprehensive, and compelling, Erika was invited to present it at the UCLA School of Law's symposium in February on human rights and climate change,” Kaufman said. “Other speakers included such luminaries as the former head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International and renowned professors.
“That Erika was invited to speak alongside these other distinguished individuals highlights that, while still a student, Erika's scholarly work is already contributing significantly to some of the most important discussions of our time."