On February 11, NYU Law’s Law Women honored Susan Herman ’74 with their Alumna of the Year Award. Herman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from October 2008 until January 2021.
The virtual event was co-sponsored by the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network and the Office of Alumni Relations.
In their introductory remarks, Law Women co-presidents Julia Bruce ’22 and Iva Petkova ’22 and Dean Trevor Morrison described Herman’s long history of advocating for justice for women, immigrants, and racial minorities, among other groups. During the Trump administration, Bruce noted, Herman oversaw the more than 400 lawsuits that the ACLU filed to protect voting rights, promote racial justice, and defend the rule of law.
“The recent attempts to subvert the results of the presidential election are a reminder that we must work together to safeguard our democratic Institutions and advance civil rights in this country,” Bruce said. “Women like Ms. Herman, who have not only dedicated their careers to promoting justice and liberty, but are national leaders of these efforts, inspire us to continue working for a better, more equal tomorrow.”
Herman noted the close ties between the ACLU and NYU Law. She was first inspired by the ACLU’s work, she said, through her coursework with longtime NYU Law professor Norman Dorsen, who served as president of the ACLU for 15 years. “Norman Dorsen taught me constitutional law and…was the person who I looked to after I became [ACLU] president,” she said. During her time as a law student, she also worked as a research assistant for then-professor Lawrence Sager, conducting research on Supreme Court decisions on behalf of the ACLU.
After law school, Herman held a clerkship on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then worked at Prisoner’s Legal Services of New York, first as a staff attorney and then as associate director. Herman was general counsel for the ACLU from 1998 until 2008, and served on the executive committee and the national board of directors.
In her remarks, Herman said that during her time directing the ACLU she thought often of Crystal Eastman, NYU Law Class of 1907. An advocate for workplace safety and drafter of the nation’s first workers compensation law, Eastman helped create the structure of the ACLU in its earliest formation, Herman said. She also noted that the new president of the ACLU is another NYU Law affiliate: Professor of Clinical Law Deborah Archer, whose presidency was announced in January.
Looking to the future of women’s equity issues, Herman noted that more work needs to be done to overcome structural barriers to women’s success, such as the lack of adequate family leave and provision for childcare. “‘How are we structuring things so that life is more difficult for women?’ ”she said, is a question that law and policy makers need to ask themselves.
Watch full event on video:
Posted April 7, 2021