What do they call it? Ah yes. Black excellence. As such, 27-year-old Michael Thomas of New York City’s Brooklyn borough has been named the editor of the Harvard Law Review, Vol. 132, the second black person in as many years.
On Sunday, Thomas took the reins from ImeIme Umana, who last year became the first African-American woman to helm the vaunted law journal.
Thomas, a second-year student at Harvard Law, says he took the “Michelle Obama route” by majoring in sociology undergrad at Princeton and then entering Harvard Law, where he is involved with the Black Law Students Association and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio.
Speaking of the Obamas, Thomas will become the third black man to take helm the Law Review—Barack Obama was the very first in 1990, and David Panton—Ted Cruz’s college roommate—was the second.
Thomas explained that the Law Review is an entirely student-run journal that publishes legal scholarship from the foremost scholars in the profession, noting that it’s not uncommon for judges—even at the Supreme Court—to cite articles that appear in its pages. Given its outsize impact, diversity is vital.
“[The] conversations that go on within and outside our pages have an effect on the law,” Thomas told The Root via email. “It’s important that those conversations reflect the full range of experience of the people who interact with the law and, that is to say, all of us.”
Thomas said that he found out about his win on the night of the election, Jan. 28. His first piece in the HLR was on marijuana, which he concedes has had a vast effect on the black community.
“My goal with the piece was simply to provide another perspective on the current legalization debates, which I felt haven’t been reckoning enough with the harms done by prohibition, particularly to poor communities and communities of color,” said Thomas. “Given that I think prohibition has proven a massive injustice, I think it’s necessary to repair those harms with the wealth generated by legalization. Otherwise, we’d be exacerbating a lot of the inequality set in motion by prohibition in the first place.”
Being that it’s black history month, we asked Thomas what current or historical jurists he admires.
“Charles Hamilton Houston is a personal hero of mine. He was the first Black editor on the Law Review and was one of the architects of the dismantling of legalized Jim Crow segregation. He, Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter were definitely brilliant minds,” he begins. “Constance Baker Motley rarely gets the attention they do but was similarly instrumental to the fight against legalized racial oppression. She deserves a special place in the conversation.”
He adds, “My old boss in the mayor’s office, Maya Wiley, who was formerly the counsel to the mayor of New York City is definitely an inspiration. She’s been able to develop a dynamic career working in law and policy. Imani Perry was my mentor at Princeton and her research and work are absolutely incredible. She’s a legal scholar that takes an interdisciplinary approach to her work. She’s also just one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.”
Immediately after law school, Thomas says, he will be clerking for two federal judges, one in the Southern District of New York and the other on the 2nd Circuit.
“Other than that, I’ve learned to avoid making too many predictions about what the future will look like,” he said. “I definitely couldn’t have predicted this.”