Heritage Month: Arab Americans in Law
BY: Husayn Hosoda/Contributing Writer
With the recent election, there has been speculation regarding the future of Arab Americans in this country and the legal status of immigrants and refugees who have been a cornerstone of American society. In combatting the negative rhetoric of Arab American citizenship, it’s important to regard the contributions that Arab Americans have made to the field of law.
A notable member of this community is Victoria Reggie Kennedy, born to a Lebanese American judge father and a Democratic national committeewoman mother in Louisiana, both with Lebanese Maronite parents. After graduating from Tulane Law, she clerked for Judge Robert Arthur Sprecher on the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Chicago. After marrying Senator Ted Kennedy in 1992, she became his political advisor and remained an activist, establishing the advocacy group Common Sense about Kids and Guns. In addition, she’s serving as a board member for the Catholic Democrats.
Another distinguished member in the field of law is Edward Masry who, with Erin Brockovitch, filed a direct action lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating the drinking water of Hinkley, CA. Their case was awarded $333 million – the largest settlement ever awarded in a direct action lawsuit in American history – and was turned into the major motion picture film “Erin Brockovitch”.
Even before these two famous attorneys, there was the late Joseph Jamail who became the wealthiest practicing attorney in U.S. history. Jamail is known most for representing Penzoil in 1985 in a lawsuit against Texaco for a breach of contract dispute. Jamail was known for being a passionate lawyer who tenaciously advocated on behalf of his clients.
While these three examples stand out as highly accomplished Arab American attorneys, it’s also important to remember the attorneys who are improving their communities and making a more favorable legal climate for Arab Americans across the country. Additionally, Arab American women are entering this field at higher rates due to the increased cultural emphasis on being successful members of society.
As social justice issues become more prominent in American politics, Arab American lawyers can often be found in the fields of civil rights, immigration, and public defense where advocacy lawyers, such as Abdeen Jabara, are helping to shape the way we talk about the rights of ethnic and racial minorities in America.