Practitioner’s Spotlight: Professor Connie de la Vega
This year’s recipient of the Warren M. Christopher International Lawyer of the Year award is Professor Connie de la Vega of the University of San Francisco School of Law. Professor de la Vega writes extensively on international human rights law and participates in United Nations human rights meetings. She has submitted amicus briefs detailing international law standards to U.S. courts for juvenile death penalty and affirmative action cases, including Roper v. Simmons and Graham and Sullivan v. Florida, and has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor de la Vega is the author of the Dictionary of International Human Rights Law, and is the co-author of The American Legal System for Foreign Lawyers and International Human Rights Law: An Introduction. She established the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic at USF and is a founding member of Human Rights Advocates.
Q: Professor de la Vega, thank you so much for meeting with us today. Can you tell us about the early part of your career and how you came to be involved in international human rights law?
A: Well the first ten years of my career were spent working at the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County in Oakland. But my interest in international human rights actually started earlier, after I began law school, when I took Professor Frank Newman’s class on international human rights law. He was very enthusiastic and I spent one semester in Geneva, Switzerland as part of my semester abroad for law school at the International Commission of Jurists, and this was part of the result of his really trying to get students to be aware of the international bodies that dealt with human rights issues. So as a result of that, and while I was working for Legal Aid, I would occasionally bring up the international law in my cases. It left the judges in total awe – "What are you talking about?" I would try to bring in international law whenever I could. I must say that in Legal Aid cases it didn’t really matter. I mean the judges just ignored it basically.
Q: So how did you then, pivot form your work at Legal Aid to the next chapter?