By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law Professors Herma Hill Kay and Saira Mohamed and 1995 graduate Mario Barnes were among the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) section award winners for excellence in legal education. Given by AALS sections organized around various academic disciplines and topics of interest, the awards were bestowed during the group’s annual meeting Jan. 2-5 in Washington, D.C.
Kay received the Section on Women in Legal Education’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award; Mohamed received the Section on Criminal Justice’s Junior Scholar Award. Barnes, the associate dean for faculty research and development at UC Irvine School of Law and the co-director of its Center on Law, Equality and Race, received the Section on Minority Groups’ Clyde Ferguson Award.
“These law professors represent the very best of our academic community,” said AALS President Daniel B. Rodriguez, the dean at Northwestern University Law School. “Their commitment to our students and excellence in our profession is rightly celebrated.”
A Berkeley Law icon
The honor was especially rewarding for Kay, as Ginsburg attended the packed luncheon ceremony and presented the award to her longtime friend, co-author, and fellow trailblazer. The Supreme Court Justice spoke of her admiration for Kay, after which Kay accepted the award to a standing ovation and read from her forthcoming book on the United States’ first women law professors.
The two met in 1972—the year Ginsburg became Columbia’s first woman law professor—at a conference on “The Law School Curriculum and the Legal Rights of Women.” Kay and SUNY Buffalo Professor Kenneth Davidson had agreed to co-author a casebook on sex-based discrimination. He drafted a chapter on employment discrimination against women, she agreed to draft a chapter on family law, and they needed a third collaborator to pen a chapter on constitutional law.
“Since Ruth was at the time litigating Supreme Court cases … and about to join the Columbia faculty, we decided to pitch the project to her,” Kay recalled. “Our common interest in improving the legal status of women brought us together.” In 2012, some 40 years later, the seventh edition of their seminal Sex-Based Discrimination casebook was published.
In Kay’s 54 years at Berkeley Law, she has been a prolific scholar, award-winning teacher, and pioneering leader. The school’s first woman dean (1992 to 2002), she teaches Family Law, California Marital Property, Conflict of Laws, and Sex-Based Discrimination.
As a member of California’s Commission on the Family, Kay paved the way for the state to adopt a no-fault divorce statute in 1969. In 1999, Berkeley Law established the Herma Hill Kay Fellowships—which support public interest work benefitting women.
“I liked her enormously from our first meeting,” Ginsburg said in a recent interview published in the AALS Annual Meeting News. “I couldn’t imagine anyone in the world I would rather have receive this award than Herma Hill Kay. She’s a grand human in all respects.”
Mohamed won the AALS Section on Criminal Justice Junior Scholars Paper Award for “Deviance, Aspiration, and the Stories We Tell: Reconciling Mass Atrocity and the Criminal Law” (forthcoming in the Yale Law Journal). Her interest in criminal law stems from a commitment to better understanding mass violence in hopes of better preventing it.
“Often in situations of mass violence, like the Holocaust or the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, horrific crimes are perpetrated by individuals who have never before committed a violent act,” Mohamed said. “They’re motivated to do so not simply by hatred, but by fear, and by campaigns of subordination and dehumanization of intended victims. The criminal law offers a way to prevent these crimes and respond to them, and also to try to comprehend them.”
A U.S. State Department lawyer before she joined Berkeley Law’s faculty in 2010, Mohamed will teach International Criminal Law and International Human Rights this semester. She credits much of her expansion into criminal law to her colleagues: Professors Andrea Roth, Christopher Kutz, Charles Weisselberg, Jonathan Simon, Melissa Murray, and Ty Alper. “They’ve deeply shaped my work and have encouraged me to think of myself as a scholar in criminal law as much as international law,” Mohamed said.
Barnes was “extremely humbled” by the news of his award and “thrilled” to share it with University of Iowa Law Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig—with whom he frequently co-writes. Barnes taught at the University of Wisconsin and University of Miami law schools before joining the UC Irvine (UCI) faculty in 2009.
At UCI’s Center on Law, Equality and Race, Barnes promotes greater racial equality through research, education, and advocacy. He pushes the center to “reach beyond the academy to address the ways that racial categories have and continue to shape the lived experiences of many Americans.” The most recent conference Barnes organized addressed the interplay of race, gender, and socio-economic class within the criminal justice system.
“I owe a significant debt to Berkeley, especially former Professor Angela Harris, without whom I never would have considered a life in legal academia,” he said of his career success. “As with all honors of this kind, one rarely feels deserving. I accept the award as a tool to motivate me to be a better teacher and scholar moving forward.”