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Race Matters and Eric Holder's Nomination as Attorney General

Yolanda Young, author of the blog On Being A Black Lawyer, stirred up some controversy in the blogosphere last year with an exposé in the Huffington Post describing her treatment as a black staff attorney at Covington and Burling as "reminiscent of Jim Crow." Turns out that while Covington was relegating Young and her black colleagues to second-class status, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, who stands on the verge of becoming the first African American to head the Department of Justice, was a litigation partner at the firm. In this piece, Young asks whether Holder's tolerance of Covington's treatment of black attorneys is relevant to his appointment as Attorney General.

Young has mixed feelings on the issue. She writes:

I, for one, am torn on this issue. On the one hand I hope that Mr. Holder's affiliation with Covington does not impede his opportunity to once again serve his country. On the other hand, I believe that it is important to acknowledge the fact that Mr. Holder's mission at Covington did not include addressing the disparate treatment of minority attorneys working in his firm.

Young's piece suggests that Holder was, at least on some level, aware of how his firm treated black staff attorneys yet did nothing to change it. At the same time, Young wonders about the level of responsibility that black attorneys have to help their black colleagues with career development. That's a tricky question, and Young acknowledges that "we can't seek to align ourselves only with other blacks. It is essential that we be open and trusting of anyone who extends a hand." In Young's case at Covington, though black partners shunned her, at least one white female partner was supportive.

Is Holder's past at Covington indicative of how he may treat black lawyers at the DOJ, or enforce the nation's affirmative action laws? Personally, I don't think so. Though I don't doubt Young's examples of racism at Covington, when it comes to contract attorneys, firms are equal-opportunity discriminators -- treating all contract lawyers as second class citizens, regardless of their race. As a litigation partner at a large firm, Holder may have bought into the mentality that staff attorneys are inferior to Biglaw associates, but that wouldn't make him a racist. It would make him an elitist.

What's your opinion?  Share your comments below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 27, 2009 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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