Judge Nathaniel R. Jones: A Life of Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation

Guest Contributor: Dean Joseph P. Tomain

Giants do walk the earth. There are heroes among us. And, on January 26, 2020, Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, a legal giant and a hero to many died at the age of 93 after eight decades of fighting for civil rights, of fighting for justice.

Judge Jones was a direct legal descendent of Walter White, William Hastie, Thurgood Marshall, and Robert Carter. As a recipient of the highest awards given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Freedom Conductor Award, and by the NAACP, the Spingarn Medal, his name is forever linked with artists such as Marion Anderson, Duke Ellington, and Richard Wright; with historical figures such as Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height, John Lewis, and John Hope Franklin; and with friends such as Leon Higginbotham and Quincy Jones. His life and service have also been recognized by world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Impressive company, indeed.

Judge Jones with Nelson Mandela
Judge Jones, along with his wife Lillian Jones, speaking with Nelson Mandela. Source — Cincinnati Enquirer.

As a lawyer, he served in private practice, as Assistant U.S. Attorney, as General Counsel of the NAACP, as a Supreme Court litigator, and, after 23 years on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit he was a valued Biglaw partner for two decades. His resume as a lawyer is incomparable. However, being the giant that he was even a field as capacious as law was insufficient to contain his talents and his interests. Does any reader know, for example, that he harbored a desire to captain an Ohio River coal barge? His daughter Stephanie made that happen.

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Judge Jones standing outside of the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Youngstown, Ohio.  AP Photo/Ron Schwane

Judge Jones’ life story from his Youngstown youth to the well of the United States Supreme Court and from his membership on the Kerner Commission to serving as an election observer in South Africa is told with great grace in his 2016 memoir Answering the Call: An Autobiography of Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America. Judge Jones heard the call to fight for justice when he was a 10-year-old and he never wavered, he never ignored racial injustice, he never stopped fighting against it. He was answering the call right up to his last speech on civil rights at the dedication of the Nathaniel R Jones Center on Race, Gender and Social Justice at the University of Cincinnati College of Law on November 14, 2019.

Answering the Call is required reading for anyone who wants to know about the many lives of Judge Nathaniel R. Jones; it is also required reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of civil rights over the last 80 years.

 

One of the lesser-known aspects of Judge Jones’ career is that he was a superb teacher and scholar. His scholarship can be found in law review articles and is manifest in his many public speeches. He was a remarkable teacher in many venues. For over 30 years he served as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He also taught at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, any number of other United States law schools, and in Cincinnati public schools. Even though he was a formidable classroom teacher, his teaching role transcended the classroom and affected every phase of his life. Just ask any of the dozens of law clerks that he has shepherded throughout his 23 years on the bench. Those clerks have become leaders in private practice, law professors, cabinets secretaries, and outstanding public servants.

Judge Jones on the bench
Judge Jones hearing a case at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1989. John Curley/Cincinnati Enquirer

Still, his teaching reached beyond his chambers and beyond the court room. He was unstinting in his community service. As a member of corporate and nonprofit boards his teaching continued. Indeed, as a board member he might best be characterized as a CCO – chief conscience officer. His participation in board meetings was always germane and on matters of justice and civil rights indispensable.

What qualities, gave Nathaniel R. Jones such stature as a civil rights voice and leader and as a citizen committed to justice?

 

Judge Jones possessed an abundance of the virtues needed to live an outstanding life; to live the life of a hero. He possessed wisdom; he possessed a piercing intellect. Judge Jones was a principal actor in many of the key civil rights activities over the last half-century and more. He knew everyone. He knew his history, his politics, his society, and his community. He remembered everything. And, he was able to bring all of that intellect and knowledge and all of those experiences together to confront racial discrimination in the United States and in other parts of the world.

He possessed the courage to keep his eyes open and speak his mind when confronted with injustice and he had an extraordinary capacity to focus. He never wavered in his commitment to civil rights; he never lost sight of the need for constant awareness of civil rights violations and the need to recognize them where they existed. No forum was inappropriate for him to acknowledge racial bigotry and discrimination. No audience could prevent him from talking about his passion.

Judge Jones w: Prezs Carter and Clinton
Judge Jones speaking with former President Clinton, former First Lady Carter, and former President Carter. Glenn Hartong/Cincinnati Enquirer

He also possessed moderation. Politics of any kind can be intense and contentious. Racial politics can draw bloodshed and has been fatal. In the face of such contention his voice was always steady and clear; forceful and persuasive; and never shrill, never false, never expedient. He spoke his mind in the world with dignity, diplomacy, and deep humanity.

In Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, the virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation that he possessed in such abundance contributed to and advanced the cause of justice for all of us.

Joseph P. Tomain is Dean Emeritus and the Wilbert and Helen Ziegler Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He served as Dean of the College for 15 years, where he continues to teach now. His areas of expertise include energy law, land use, government regulation, and contracts. He has written numerous books, papers, and articles covering those topics and more. Dean Tomain has presented his scholarship in front of numerous distinguished groups including the Conference of Chief Justices, the Association of American Law Schools, the American Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the Cincinnati Bar Association, and the US Sixth Circuit Conference. He also serves on the Boards of a number of professional and civic organizations, including the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

With Great Discretion Comes Great Responsibility.

Brady Violations in the Story of Michael Sutton’s Wrongful Conviction.

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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Michael Sutton with his sister, Lucretia Sutton.  

Do you remember the day you finished high school? I want you to go back to that time. Imagine, you’re 17 years old again: You’re hanging out with your friends; you’re excited about the end of high school and the start of a new beginning.  Days before your graduation, you go out with your closest friends and stay out all night. You dance, laugh, and celebrate the first steps to a bright new future. For most of us, that celebration night ends with hugging good-bye, quietly sneaking into our houses without waking up our parents, and sleeping in the next day. For most of us, it’s a great night. And, for most us, the night does not end with us being arrested for an attempted murder we did not commit. Unfortunately, that is what happened to Michael Sutton.

On the night he celebrated finishing high school, Michael found himself with three of his closest friends being arrested. Instead of hugging their friends goodnight and returning to the comforts of their home, Michael and his best friends spent the night in jail for a crime they did not commit. Instead of going off to college and getting his degree in business, Michael was sentenced to 41 years to life in prison.

Continue reading “With Great Discretion Comes Great Responsibility.”

T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E: Tupac’s Message Manifested Through a Fictitious Reality of America in 2018

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Khalil and Starr in The Hate U Give. Image from 20th Century Fox

The Hate U G[a]ve Little Infants F**ks Everybody, meaning What you feed us as seeds grows and blows up in your face”

– Tupac Shakurpac.jpg

The Hate U Give is a powerful, must-see-drama/thriller. While the film is heart-wrenching, its message leaves its viewers with much optimism. The film was inspired by a phrase coined by the late, iconic rapper Tupac Shakur: “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.” Throughout his 25-year life, Tupac revolutionized the music industry with hits like “Dear Mama,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Changes,” and dozens more that would inspire generations to come. ‘Pac also used his platform to shed light on how racism was the catalyst for social and political issues facing the Black community, such as poverty and police brutality. These are constant themes present in The Hate U Give.

In The Hate U Give, director George Tillman, Jr. highlights one of American society’s most sensitive topics: racism. Particularly, it examines racism manifested through police brutality, microaggressions, implicit bias, and cultural appropriation. The plot emanates from the shooting death of an unarmed Black teen, Khalil, at the hands of a white policer officer. Starr Carter, the main character in the movie and Khalil’s lifelong best friend, witnesses the shooting.

Continue reading “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E: Tupac’s Message Manifested Through a Fictitious Reality of America in 2018”

Issue One: Light At The End of the Tunnel or a Risky Gamble?

Everyone agrees that we need to fight drug addiction in Ohio. The Cincinnati area has had some of the highest opioid overdoses and deaths in the country. There aren’t many local families that haven’t been touched by the opioid crisis in some manner, my own family included.On the ballot in 2018 in Ohio, there is a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would reduce the crime of possession of personal amounts of illegal substances to misdemeanors not resulting in jail terms. Additionally, the amendment would make it harder to incarcerate drug users on probation or parole for failing drug tests. This proposed amendment on the ballot is known as Issue One, and it has strong proponents and opponents.

Continue reading “Issue One: Light At The End of the Tunnel or a Risky Gamble?”

Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation: The Dangerous New Narrative.

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

The_Boy_Who_Cried_Wolf_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994We’re all told at some point the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. A young boy would repeatedly and continuously cry wolf when no wolf was present. His village would panic and run to his rescue but found the boy with no wolf. The villagers always ran to his rescue when no wolf was present. Eventually, the villagers collectively decided that when the boy cried wolf, they would not come to the boy’s rescue. One day, the boy saw a wolf. Scared and alone, he cried wolf – no one showed up. The boy died, eaten by a wolf.

The moral of the story: don’t lie or you’ll die. Women were treated like the boy who cried wolf. When women scream “sexual assault,” they were met with disbelief.  However, after the confirmation hearing for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that narrative changed significantly. Women are no longer met with disbelief, but rather ignorance of their experience. John Oliver said it best on his show Last Week Tonight: “it is not that women aren’t believed, [society] simply does not care.” The narrative now changed to not caring about a woman’s harassment/abuse/assault. Ultimately, this dangerous new narrative will cause more harm to women. By not caring, society will accept that women face sexual harassment, or have been assaulted, but won’t take action against it. By taking this stance, we are basically saying to women, “hey, you got harassed/assaulted/abused? Well, you’re going have to deal with that because you’re a woman. No one is going to help you. Your abuser won’t get punished or reprimanded for it.”

Continue reading “Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation: The Dangerous New Narrative.”

Litigating Sexual Harassment Cases

Guest Contributor: Sandra F. Sperino

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Professor Sandra Sperino. Image from UC Law’s Website.

The #metoo movement has increased the focus on sexual harassment cases and how courts analyze them. One way to increase the reach of harassment law is hidden in plain sight: the text of Title VII itself.

Title VII, the federal law that prohibits harassment based on race, sex, and other protected traits, has two main provisions.  Under Title VII’s first provision, it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to do the following:

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Continue reading “Litigating Sexual Harassment Cases”

Who Are Those Living In Homelessness in Cincinnati?

buddy gray
buddy gray, the founder of the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Hamilton County, Ohio, home of Cincinnati, is seeking to ban homeless camps from its county. Its District Attorney argues that the homeless must go into shelters or leave the county.
I spent about twenty months as a live-in, full-time volunteer in a homeless shelter, which was an opportunity that brought me to Cincinnati in the summer of 2014. During that time, I lived as a Catholic Worker, a movement founded by Dorothy Day in the 1930s whose proponents devote their lives to fighting injustice, poverty, and violence. My time there informed my understanding of the plight of those living in homelessness and who it is that makes up that population.

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Grace Place, the homeless shelter in Cincinnati’s College Hill neighborhood where the author served for about two years.

Continue reading “Who Are Those Living In Homelessness in Cincinnati?”