Guest blogger Rita Muse ’15 comes from a line of BC Law graduates. Her grandmother, Judge Mary Beatty Muse, graduated in 1950, her aunt, Patricia Muse, in 1990, and her cousin, Julie Muse-Fisher, in 2005. Her uncle, Christopher Muse, though not a BC Law grad, has been a longtime adjunct professor at the Law School. He and Rita’s grandfather, Robert Muse were instrumental in the release of the wrongly convicted Bobby Joe Leaster. Their engagement with Leaster in the 1980s had a lasting impact on the Muse family, including on Rita, who, as a law student, helped to free another innocent man.
Bobby Joe Leaster: A Remembrance
By Rita Miuse ’15
When Bobby Joe Leasterspoke to BC Law students and faculties, his story was the same but his message never got old; he was wrongfully convicted of murder and unjustly imprisoned for almost 16 years, but he dealt with injustice in his own profoundly special way. This past April 26, one of BC Law’s favorite guests and a beloved citizen of Boston, passed away from the severe burns he suffered in a home fire three weeks earlier.
Bobby Joe Leaster, with his lawyers, Robert and Christopher Muse, teaching Judicial Youth Corps students in the courthouse where he was convicted.
This is my remembrance of the person who motivated me as a student, inspired me as a lawyer, and became a friend of my family, two of whom, my grandfather Robert Muse and my uncle Christopher Muse, a longtime adjunct professor at BC Law, helped to free Bobby Joe.
On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, explicitly protects against discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation. To reach its answer, the Court consolidated three cases that all touch on this issue, including Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners. The plaintiff in Bostock was a gay man who worked for the County as the Child Welfare Services Coordinator for over a decade. In January 2013, Bostock joined a gay recreational softball league, and in June 2013 he was fired from this position.
As a member of Boston College’s Law Review, I spent the Fall semester drafting a comment on the Bostock case, which was published by the journal’s online supplement. My comment ultimately argued that the Supreme Court should follow the guidance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces Title VII, and definitively hold that sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII.
Although our reasonings were not identical, both the Supreme Court and I agreed that LGBTQ individuals cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. There are still many changes that must be made before sexual orientation discrimination is completely eliminated, but this decision is definitely a historic milestone worthy of celebration.
A couple of weeks ago, Dean Rougeau quoted Martin Luther King in his powerful letter to the BC Law community: “We may all have come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.”
What does this mean?
It means that not a single person in America can remain silent or apathetic in this fight for racial equality. Racism is pervasive and comes in many forms. Racism is police brutality. Racism is microaggressions. Racism is “color-blindness.” Racism is silence.
With abortion rights before the Supreme Court this term, I’ve been thinking about the metaphor that brought privacy—and by extension, reproductive health rights—under Constitutional protection. In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Douglas reasoned that enumerated individual rights “have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Douglas analyzed these penumbras to extend the zones of individual rights, frustrating dedicated textualists who saw no justification for them in the language of the Constitution.
It might be helpful to pause here and clarify exactly what a penumbra is. Hold an object up in front of a light source so that it casts a shadow on a nearby surface: at the center of the shadow will be its most focused darkness, its umbra; move your gaze out to the border of the shadow, to where it meets the light, and you will see a zone of unfocused shadow, a kind of half-light called the penumbra. In Douglas’s metaphor, a certain set of enumerated rights are the umbra and the unenumerated right to privacy is their penumbra, giving them life and substance.
I grew up in a pretty traditional South Asian household. I’ve tried talking about the Black Lives Matter movement numerous times before, but my family just didn’t seem too invested in it. Most of the time, I would just give up. Because it was just too frustrating.
But that’s the problem, right? These are just events that we hear about or see in the news, just optional conversations that we can opt in or out of. But for black people in America, this is reality. It’s not just another life lost; it is yet another manifestation of the unhinged, systemic racism that we allallow to continue and continue to allow.
Black people in America don’t get to choose to live in constant fear. They don’t get to choose that law enforcement dehumanizes them. So it feels inherently wrong that my community gets to choose whether or not we care.
BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau sent the letter below earlier this week to the BC Law community, and I thought it was important enough to share here on BC Law Impact. I have also written about this issue in my recent post Black Lives Matter.
Dear members of BC Law community:
I know the pain that you are feeling because I am feeling it too. And I am tired. So very, very tired. I am tired of writing these letters over and over again. As a Black man with three sons, I am tired of the fear I must carry when they are out moving through their lives in a country where the lives of people of color are so easily extinguished. I am tired of the sickening legacy of racism in this county and of being told not to talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable. Our nation is in crisis and we cannot continue to ignore the fact that the fabric of our society is being shredded by many among us who refuse to recognize our shared humanity.
“Go home. Be with your family. Live simply and with integrity. Consume only what you need. Be generous with each other.”
That is the gist of much of Leviticus 25, where God issues instructions for the Jubilee. The jubilee is a kind of year-long Sabbath, occurring after “seven weeks of years, seven times seven years”—i.e., every 50th year. But in addition to the typical Sabbath’s rest and worship, the Jubilee is also a time of mercy and compassion: enslaved people are freed, debts are forgiven, and economic relations are subordinated to fundamental human needs. God assures Moses that the land will be capable of feeding and sheltering the people and so they must, “observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely.”