U.S. law firms Davis Polk & Wardwell and Winston & Strawn are retaliating against law students who signed on to or drafted public statements in support of Palestine by rescinding letters of employment.
“Shame on [Davis Polk & Wardwell] for penalizing students for exercising their rights of free speech and to oppose genocide in violation of International law,” Chaumtoli Huq, an Associate Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law, said on social media. “[The] Legal community must speak up against this action by employers.”
The law students, who attend Harvard, Columbia, and New York University, had condemned Israel for the killing, occupation and displacement of the Palestinian people. According to the United Nations (UN), Israeli forces have killed a staggering 4,200 Palestinians in just 10 days, displacing over 1 million more. Since Israel started bombing Gaza on October 7, at least 11 Palestinian journalists, 28 medical staff and 14 UN colleagues have been killed. One Palestinian child has been killed by the bombings every fifteen minutes, and more than 100 children have been killed each day, according to a Palestinian nonprofit.
Ryna Workman, a New York University law student and Student Bar Association (SBA) President, published a principled statement on October 10, expressing an “unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance against oppression toward liberation and self-determination.” Winston & Strawn, a firm at which Workman had previously interned, rescinded their job offer in retaliation for Workman’s statement. New York University has also opened an investigation into Workman, threatening them with discipline and potential expulsion due to their statement in solidarity with Palestine.
“What’s been driving me is the resilience of Palestinians in this moment,” Workman told The Intercept. “And so for me, I will continue to speak out for them and ask for these demands of an immediate ceasefire and this provision of this humanitarian assistance in a safe, secure, and timely fashion to the people of Gaza.”
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the nation’s oldest and largest progressive bar association, has released a statement in support of Workman. The NLG condemned Winston & Strawn, LLP for its discriminatory decision to rescind Workman’s job offer. It also denounced New York University for “failing to defend its law students from corporate censorship, doxxing, harassment, and backlash, and for threatening or enacting disciplinary consequences against Ryna Workman instead of their harassers.”
“The attack on Ryna Workman comes hand in hand with the smear campaign targeting the rallies for Palestine taking place across the world and U.S. President Joe Biden’s vague yet chilling invocation of ‘law enforcement’ in response to the mass protests in support of the Palestinian people,” the NLG said in the statement. “Attacks on lawyers, law students, and legal workers for speaking out on Palestine are attacks on solidarity itself, and we will not accept them.”
A week later, Davis Polk & Wardwell followed in the footsteps of Winston & Strawn and rescinded job offers to law students who had publicly supported Palestine. “These statements are simply contrary to our firm’s values and we thus concluded that rescinding these offers was appropriate in upholding our responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive work environment for all Davis Polk employees,” Davis Polk’s managing partner, Neil Barr, said in an internal email obtained by Reuters.
Attorneys have condemned the retaliation against pro-Palestine law students by Davis Polk & Wardwell, calling out the law firm’s racist history.
“The Davis in Davis Polk is named after an attorney that defended segregation in Brown v. Board and further defended voter disenfranchisement of Black voters,” Harvard law clinical instructor Alejandra Caraballo said on social media. “Targeting law students of color like this is not surprising.”
Richmond Law professor Marissa Jackson Sow, a previous employee at Davis Polk & Wardwell, confirmed that an embedded white supremacist culture exists at the firm.
“I worked at Davis Polk for two years (at one point as one of two Black people in the litigation department firm-wide),” Jackson Sow said. “I worked on the 27th floor, where there was a floor-wide art installation centered around Black people picking cotton, entitled ‘Heritage of the South.’”
While the identities of the law students who had their job offers rescinded by Davis Polk & Wardwell are currently not known, the doxing and harassment by anti-Palestinian vigilante groups like Canary Mission have disproportionately targeted Black students, teachers, professionals and organizations.
“The antiBlackness and utter racism of trying to get Black people fired, or damage their careers & ability to provide, for sharing an opinion that makes you feel a way is deeply, horrifyingly familiar,” law professor T. Anansi Wilson said on social media. “The practice of curtailing Black speech and political rights/activity, was a primary impetus for lynchings. It is a reminder that disobedience to the will of the white majority, is a threat to our lives; always, already.”
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