Author Archives: Amy Farr Robertson

About Amy Farr Robertson

Civil Rights Lawyer. Dog Lover. Smartass.

Law & Order: Originalism

Legal conservatives are always whining about “originalism,” by which they mean “the law back when the Constitution was drafted,” but which really means “the description of law ca. 1787 that we pulled straight out of our tucheses and that coincidentally happens to support whatever rich and/or white people want the result to be in 2023.” For as-yet undisclosed but intensely law-nerdy reasons, I’m poking around in cases from that era and stumbled across evidence that those white guys in the constitution-drafting era really were much more sophisticated about the law:

The new trial had been pressed on five grounds:

1st. That the verdict was against the weight of evidence.

2d. That Herman Skiles, one of the jurors, some weeks before the trial, had betted a pint of wine with colonel James Mercer, that a verdict would go for the plaintiff, and thereby shewed his partiality.

3d. That five of the jurors eat or drank during the trial, at the expence of one of the lessors of the plaintiff.

4th. That two of the jurors declared their opinion in favour of the plaintiff before they heard the testimony.

5th. That Herman Skiles aforesaid, and two others of the jurors, threatened to throw three others of the jury, who dissented from them in opinion, out of the window of the second story of the Court House, where they were deliberating on their verdict, unless they would agree to find a verdict for the plaintiff.

Goodright v. McCausland, 1794 WL 615, at *1 (Pa. 1794). So, yeah, let’s take all our legal cues from that august system as it existed in the late 18th century.

Why I live in Colorado

Image: Color-coded map of the US, with the following legend:

Western half of WA & OR:  “Rain”

Eastern WA & OR, MT, ND, SD, NE, IA,WI, AK: “Cold; lots of conservatives”

MN: “Just really fucking cold, trust me”

MI, IL, IN, OH, WV, PA, MD, DE, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, NH, VT, ME, HI: “Muggy; insects”

West coast of CA:  “Expensive”

Eastern part of CA, NV and AZ: “Conservatives; chance of tarantulas”

UT: “Pretty; still too many conservatives”

KS, OK, TX, MO, AR, LA, KY, TN, MS, AL, GA, VA, NC, SC, FL: “Hot; muggy; insects; conservatives”

NM: “One other place I’d consider living”

CO: “Colorado!”  (Indicated by the CO state flag: red letter C, enclosing a yellow circle, with three blue and white stripes.)

Happy Birthday, Bruce!

I won’t say this to you directly, because you don’t want to hear from me.  This makes me sad, but I don’t want to add to your stress with an unwelcome text or email.  But I miss you and I wonder sometimes, no matter how angry you are, whether you miss me.  Or whether you miss at least our shared past. 

Bruce’s 3d birthday in 1965. Seven small white kids at a picnic table; Bruce is at the far end of the table; I’m to my Dad’s left in a blue dress and red shoes. Dad stands at the head of the table in his Summer Nerd outfit: blue button down, sleeves rolled above his elbows; shorts in a different shade of blue; black socks and black business shoes.

One of the coolest things about having a sibling is making fun of your nuclear and extended family; the next coolest thing is the shared memory of stupid shit you did as kids. Remember Dad’s attempts at casual dress?  He was incapable of anything between a three-piece suit and ancient repurposed suit pants, often rolled up to his knees for a stroll on the beach, often (see left) paired with black socks and shoes. Remember making fun of Mom’s boyfriend’s name? (Sorry, Mom – I know you hated it, but we laughed our inconsiderate asses off.) Remember the way Aunt Martha would introduce you to anyone who had anything to do with something vaguely sciencey and assume you’d have a lot to talk about? Or Dad opening your Chemical Engineering PhD thesis to a random page and claiming to have found a typo – man he was proud of someone in our family doing sciencey things!  

Neither of us knew what “calvados” was when offered it at my graduation dinner, and spent the next few hours saying the word and laughing ourselves silly.  (It was my law school graduation, for the record.)  Remember when Dad tried to throw an ice cream cone at you, but hit the inside of the car’s back door. We’re still considering a plaque for that specific Dairy Queen in Brunswick, Maine.  Remember the trip to France in 1986 – three generations of stubborn, crabby Robertsons in a small car without much of a plan, where the conversations ranged from Granddaddy’s adventures in WWII to Granddaddy’s contemporary struggles with constipation. 

We laughed at it all – even the stuff we probably should not have laughed at (I think Granddaddy was actually pretty uncomfortable, though the TMI factor was pretty high). We laughed at some of the painful shit around the divorce, and laughed and cried around the really painful shit when Dad died.  (They buried him in the wrong grave?  One belonging to the cousin who hated him?  We tried to cry, but it was also fucking hilarious.) 

Well, Happy Birthday and thank you – it’s been cathartic to write just this sampling of hilarity and stupid shit.  But it was also a good reminder that I do, indeed, love you and miss you. 

Happy 60th, dear brother.

Thank you, Sen. Booker. I’m so sorry, Judge Jackson

I’ve been trying to process how I feel about the circus that is most of the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. No, that’s unfair to clowns. The middle school recess that the GOP bullies have turned these hearings into.

Before turning to the school bullies, I want to thank Sen. Cory Booker, whose words moved me to tears. This clip is about 20 minutes long and all very worth it, but if you don’t have the time, start around the 14-minute mark. I am deeply grateful for Sen. Booker’s speech – it was an act of healing to watch it and, I hope, to speak it.

[Image description: split screen showing Sen. Cory Booker (Black man in dark suit with red tie) on the left and Judge Jackson (Black woman in royal blue suit and black shell; she has shoulder-length braids and glasses) on the right. The video is captioned.]

But what to say of the white boys hurling ignorant insults at this brilliant, brave woman? I want to find a way to apologize to her, as if some ignorant, racist, drunken relative of mine had crashed a civilized gathering at which I had the privilege of listening to and learning from her. I’m grateful that she has a wonderful family and a supportive network of friends with whom she can process this bullshit. And I want to send her comfort food, maybe a big bowl of pasta and a chocolate chip cookie. Or whatever is her favorite when she can get home, kick off the heels, and feel safe amongst people who love her. You don’t deserve any of this, Judge. But you do deserve to be on the Supreme Court.


In praise of work-life imbalance

Introductory note: I am a privileged, white, cis/het, abled woman, and this post is intended to address other privileged non-marginalized people. I don’t know and would not dare to guess or pontificate on the self-care or life-balance situation of people outside that category. YMMV.


I started my legal career in a large commercial law firm where we regularly worked 12-hour days and pulled occasional all-nighters. It wasn’t healthy. After Tim and I started our own firm, we pledged to have more control over our time. And we did. We’d close the office for a “weather emergency” when it hit 70 degrees in March and everyone had spring fever. We’d take off to a baseball game (remember those?) on a whim. But we had started a law firm dedicated to something we cared deeply about: disability rights. So there were also long days, weekend hours, and a general blurring of work/life boundaries.

Now, 26 years after we started that little firm, that imbalance still exists.  We set our own hours — a huge privilege — but we also work plenty of weekends and spend plenty of our off-time thinking and talking about our work. 

And that’s OK. 

Younger lawyers now demand work-life balance. They need time for self-care.  And that’s OK, too. 

But I’m concerned that that demand has become the same sort of brass ring/competition that long hours were to us in the 80s and 90s. Then it was cool to brag that you’d been at the office all weekend, or billed 250 or 300 hours that month,* sweeping into the competition folks who might have needed more time for themselves or their families.

Now if feels — at least from the perspective of this late-Boomer/Gen-X-cusper — that self-care has become as competitive as billable hours once were.  And that the quest for work-life balance can sometimes lose sight of clients with even more radically imbalanced lives.

I’m not suggesting we go back to defining our self-worth in billable hours.  Just that long hours on behalf of a cause you believe in may be the source not only of eye bags, caffeine jitters, and piles of unwashed laundry, but also great satisfaction and even joy. 

Work life balance/imbalance balance.


* I was actually present for a conversation among male attorneys comparing competitively who returned to work fastest after their wives gave birth.  Even for the early 90s, that was gross.


Solving White Snowflake Censorship and Affirmative Action in One Go.

Here’s how we solve the White Snowflake Censorship problem and the Supreme Court May Outlaw Affirmative Action for BIPOC* problem at the same time: All colleges and universities — especially those elite ones that conservative politicians still want their kids to attend — adopt a Historical and Cultural Literacy Exam. 

The HCLE will require applicants to demonstrate knowledge of:

  • American history as it actually occurred, rather than as regurgitated to coddle White Snowflakes.
  • Literature by and about BIPOC people, LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, and people whose families arrived here within the last two generations.
  • Current events including police violence against BIPOC people, discovery of mass graves at Native American boarding schools, and conservative attempts to subvert our system of government.
  • Science including, y’know, germ theory.

Next, and here’s where I’m not at all kidding and am trying to think how we can make this happen:  create an open access curriculum to prepare for this exam, including access to all the banned books and excluded history that are currently causing massive meltdowns among white snowflakes.  Interested students, and especially students of color in conservative states, will have the opportunity to learn the curriculum needed to pass the HCLE and, not coincidentally, to be a well-educated human in 2022. 

Conservatives love to whine that colleges and universities skew liberal.  Well, yes:  knowledge is not a both-sides-have-a-point sort of thing.  To paraphrase the great philosopher Stephen Colbert, the facts have a liberal bias.  Just own this, Higher Ed World!  Lean into it.  Put the liberal back in liberal arts.  You have a product that rich white folks will lie, cheat, and steal to get:  use that power to help keep the country from driving off a fascist cliff. 


*White Affirmative Action (WAA) will continue to be just as legal as it has been since 1619 — in the form of legacy admissions, admission of kids whose parents have their names on a classroom building, and admission of kids whose parents play golf with the admissions director or some guy with his name on a classroom building.


One Year

Everyone will have a One Year story right about now.

On March 10, 2020, I flew to Los Angeles for a two-day site visit. We were starting to get a sense that the coronavirus was serious, and — after a nerve-wracking few hours of wiping down my arm rests and drop-down table — my flight ended with a man being removed by ambulance in respiratory distress.

Throughout the day of March 11, I trooped around a large housing development in my Amtrak hard hat with a large group of opinionated architectural experts and took increasingly concerned calls from Tim back in Denver: This is looking really bad. Maybe we should give folks the option to work at home? And by the end of the day: please take your laptops with you and plan to work from home until further notice. Lunch that day in L.A. — Peruvian food with a couple of fair housing gurus from HUD — would be my last in-restaurant restaurant meal for over a year.

We cancelled the second day of surveys and I grabbed the first flight home the morning of March 12. One woman on our flight was wearing a full haz-mat suit and gas mask. Another man kept sneezing on people. When we landed in Denver, I drove home and — with these very few exceptions — didn’t leave:

  • Occasional trips to the office with Tim, though fewer as COVID cases spiked and it became clear that our doofus aging-Beach-Boy property manager was an anti-masker.
  • Four trips that took me inside a post office or UPS store.
  • Approximately three carry-out meals that required me to go inside a restaurant.
  • Two trips to the dentist.
  • One gathering with two other friends on an outdoor deck.
  • One adventure inside a Walgreens to get our flu shots.

I participated in my first virtual hearing on March 17. CREEC had its first virtual Happy Hour on March 20 and its first virtual event on September 17. We said farewell to several CREEC employees and welcomed several new ones, all without gathering in person. I argued virtual motions and participated in virtual conferences in a suit jacket, Blue Loom scarf (of course), and shorts.

We started isolating on March 12, 2020.  We got our first COVID vaccines on March 7, 2021. 

With the exception of the flu shot and our COVID shots last Sunday, I have not been inside a store since March 11, 2020. I’m fine with that.

I am beyond grateful for those who made it possible for an aging asthmatic and a quad to radically isolate for a year, especially Tim’s assistant Bob Wilson, who masked, scrubbed up, stuck by us, and kept his hilarious sense of humor through a very intense year, and every single person who delivered groceries and other things to our door. You had the interactions we were afraid to have.

My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic and the incompetence of the last administration.  It really didn’t have to happen this way.

Holly learns the stairs

A series of photos in which our adorable puppy adorably attempts to climb down the steps but adorably gives up.  Adorable puppy is now seven — and happily climbs up and down the stairs — so the photos have been sort of sitting around waiting to be publicly adorable for over six years. Still: adorable, no?




I wrote this a (large but unspecified) number of years ago, decided that I should not publish it given the cast of characters I was co-counseling with at the time (not that any of them would read my deathless prose), and put it aside. For some reason — Monday afternoon of a long weekend, maybe? — I was noodling around in my drafts folder, found it again, and decided enough time had passed that no one would recognize themselves. 

I love co-counseling.  Working on interesting legal issues with a good team is one of the absolute joys of being a lawyer. I have been very lucky, too, with the teams I have had the privilege to work with, snark with, drink with, and learn from.  On rare occasions, though, it doesn’t go as smoothly.  As I pondered the co-counsel relationships that worked well and those that didn’t, I decided that there are a couple of basic principles that could guide you to find your dream team, or warn you off the duds.  Call it E-Harmony for co-counsel: 

Co-Harmony.  Six points of compatibility!

  1. Technological compatibility:  If one firm is using the latest case management technology and the other firm has large redwelds of dead trees, it may not work out.  If the dead trees firm is proud of its ignorance and ridicules the advanced technology of the tech-nerd firm, it definitely will not work out.  It’s not cool to announce that you don’t understand your own firm’s email program.  Not cool.
  2. Hierarchical compatibility.  Will the senior lawyer insist on speaking only to other senior lawyers, or chat and work comfortably with more junior lawyers and even (gasp!) paralegals?  Corollary:  If the other firm’s senior lawyers treat their own junior lawyers or paralegals like crap, run.  Fast.
  3. Reachability compatibility.  Is everyone more or less equally neurotic about being reachable?  Or does one firm carry smart phones with email while the other gets email only on a desktop computer at the office during work hours, possibly after their admin prints it out? 
  4. Deadline compatibility.  You’re either an afternoon-of-the-deadline filer or a 11:59:59 p.m.-of-the-deadline filer.  If you’re the former co-counseling with the latter, you will spend many days from mid-afternoon (when your last draft was finished) to 11:59:59 banging your forehead slowly and painfully on your desk, often while your significant other enjoys a festive night out with your friends.*
  5. Grammar and bluebook nerd compatibility.  Everyone has to agree to care whether the comma is italicized, or at least to defer to the lawyer(s) on the team who do.  Or not.  If one firm is compulsive about making briefs look beautiful and the other resists these efforts, it will not work out. 
  6. Sense of humor compatibility:  Try telling a mild joke about opposing counsel’s tie.  If the other lawyers don’t even chuckle, they will not — down the road — enjoy your brilliant, side-splittingly hilarious, vaguely disgusting analysis of your opposing counsel’s legal arguments.  Not a good match.  Corollary:  Both firms’ cynicism level should be roughly equal.  This is why co-counseling across the plaintiff/defendant divide rarely works smoothly.

Go forth and co-counsel!

*See: written long before the pandemic.



Putting the fence to even better use!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the #BlackLivesMatter sign that I put up on a long stretch of fence on the side of our property facing a pretty heavily traveled frontage-ish road. First, I’m happy to report that, almost three weeks later, it remains unvandalized. That is, it exceeded my “Kerry 2004” sign by two weeks and six days.  

Wooden fence with "#BLACKLIVESMATTER" and a blank poster board stapled to it, photographed from across a residential street.

But even better, a few days later, Olive Davis and Janie Reilly, two 11-year-old neighbors, asked if they could add their own posters.  OMG yes!  Check this out!  The kids are way more than OK.  For this and so many reasons, I have great faith that the next generation will take much better care of this country than we have. 

Olive (white girl; purple shirt; denim shorts) and Janie (white girl; black tshirt; denim shorts) working together to staple a sign under the #BlackLivesMatter sign. Two helmets and a skateboard are on the ground near their feet.

Pink sign reading We R = [equal sign], all in glitter with rainbow cotton balls dotted around

Orange construction paper sign with a heart outlined in white and filled in with rainbow colors.

Two construction paper signs. One green that reads "This to shall pass," in various colors of ink with rainbow cotton balls dotted around. The second is on light blue paper and says Reach 4 the Sky with cotton ball clouds and a light-colored hand reaching up from below.

Purple construction paper sign that reads "Every Vote counts" in various colors and giltter, with two rainbow cotton balls.


Blue construction paper sign that reads, "Love is Love" in red and blue ink with glitter and two multicolored cotton balls.


Two construction paper signs. The top yellow paper with the words "Black lives Matter" in various colored inks with glitter. The bottom with the words "Be Your Best Self" with multicolored cotton balls.

Thank you Olive and Janie – you made my day!!!