At MLK Convocation, CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates ’05 Urges Vigilance

January 28, 2019

During times of social upheaval, many people become overwhelmed. Instead of getting engaged, they nod off, dreaming of quieter times. At the Law School’s fourth annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, Laura Coates ’05, a CNN legal analyst and author, urged listeners not to be one of those people.

Coates began her speech, titled “Conscious Justice in a Fake News Era; A Reflection on MLK’s Sermon ‘Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,’” by reading an excerpt of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1968 address at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Like King, Coates reminded listeners of the story of Rip Van Winkle, a fictional tale about a “simple, good-natured fellow” who slumbered for 20 years. When he fell asleep, King George III ruled America. When he awoke, a revolution had catapulted George Washington to become a young country’s first leader.

“For Rip Van Winkle, it was 20 years,” Coates said. “Imagine if you had slept through the last 20 months.”

Modern day Rip Van Winkles sleeping for 20 months or so would have missed the appointment of a pair of new U.S. Supreme Court justices, children held in cages, travel bans, an expansion of executive power, and a government shutdown, she said.

“This is the time to awaken yourself,” Coates said.

She urged attorneys—and those soon to be attorneys—to ask themselves these questions: “How do I know what I am doing is in line with the trajectory of democracy? How do I keep pushing forward and not roll back? How do I ensure that what makes America great is perhaps what’s in its future once the aspirations align with the actuality?”

Added Coates. “I really hope you remain awake and embrace the opportunity to be among the people to nudge the person next to you. This is not the time to sleep. This is the time for you to come alive and dream in color. And the words of King will remind you of that every single day.”

The Law School’s Diversity Committee sponsored the event. After her remarks, Coates answered questions from Eduardo Castro, a 2L student and committee member, about several issues, including racial injustice in America.

“Racism still very much exists,” Coates said. “Our nation is not unique in that.”

Coates, who is also host of a SiriusXM radio show and author of “You Have The Right: A Constitutional Guide To Policing The Police,” called racism counterproductive to American competitiveness in a global economy and reminded listeners that King was working on The Poor People’s Campaign at the time of his death.

In his introductory remarks, Dean Garry W. Jenkins welcomed audience members and noted, “Bigotry and hate remain persistent problems in our nation and in our politics. In my view, these are not the parts of America that inspire us. I mark these challenges not as a lament but rather, as a challenge, a call to action.”

—By Todd Melby, a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and radio producer

Laura Coates ’05
Laura Coates ’05

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