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Matthew Bishop
12/22/2020

Matt Bishop

As a wildlife attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), Matthew Bishop JD'98 is a voice for animal species at risk, particularly for predators found in the West. These top-of-the-food-chain animals need large tracts of land to support vital populations and are critical to maintaining healthy populations farther down the chain.

"My work mostly focuses on the recovery of threatened and endangered species," Bishop said from his office in Helena, Montana. Since 1998, Bishop has won most of the 50-some cases he has brought as lead counsel in federal (and occasionally state) court, protecting lynx, wolverine, and Mexican wolves, and safeguarding unique places from logging and off-road vehicles.

In one of his recent wins, he and his co-counsel reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. Bishop's work ramped up when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought to transfer management of some species to individual states—prematurely, according to Bishop. Since then, the level of transparency has changed regarding how listing and delisting determinations are made.

Once Bishop files a lawsuit against the federal government, he likes digging into the evidence. Poring over thousands of pages of records is more like putting together pieces of a puzzle than doing investigative work, he said. A lifelong outdoorsman, his work seems more a life's calling than a job.

"It's a niche practice that I really enjoy."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bishop.

Grant Jonathan
12/22/2020

Grant Jonathan

A member of Tuscarora, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy, Grant Jonathan MSEL'97 saw firsthand how environmental degradation and a changing climate impacted the land and Indian Nations.

"I wanted to contribute and do something about it," he said. Jonathan attended law school at the University of Buffalo and then was awarded a First Nations Environmental Law Fellowship at Vermont Law School. Since then, Jonathan has done nothing but tribal environmental work.

For the past 18 years, Jonathan has been with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a regional Indian coordinator for the past seven. Based in New York, his role includes providing environmental grants to Indian Nations, helping them plan their environmental programs in reservation communities, and consulting whenever an EPA action has an impact in an area of interest.

Jonathan's work is often complicated by not having enough resources to address issues such as garbage being dumped on Indian land or the polluting of water that for centuries has been used for drinking, fishing, agriculture, and spiritual purposes. To get at these problems, he often teams up with other state and local entities to combine resources.

Jonathan meets annually with leaders in upstate New York to discuss priorities, and this year, climate change was the dominating concern. "Most of these nations are beyond adaptation planning. They've been adapting to the changing weather for decades," Jonathan said. "They're more interested in resiliency projects that make their communities stronger, such as streambank stabilization, removing invasive plants, and controlling flooding." They also look at how climate change has affected their spiritual lives, altering when ceremonies occur—for the first maple tree tapping or for thunder—based on the changing climate.

In his spare time, Jonathan is an award-winning Iroquois bead artist. His intricate work detailing flowers and animals—owls are a favorite—can take weeks to a month to complete.

"I love my job," Jonathan said. "Once in a while, I may reflect through my own awareness, I've come full circle; I'm actually still doing what I set out to do when I went to school."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Grant Jonathan.

Monica Miller
12/22/2020

Monica Miller

California-based Monica Miller JD'12 fights for the separation of church and state. As legal director and senior counsel for the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center and executive director of the Humanist Legal Society, Miller's work is often around issues that arise in public schools. When a letter isn't enough, Miller has filed lawsuits in federal court. She won a case against a South Carolina public elementary school for holding end-of-year ceremonies in a Christian chapel and a case against a Mississippi high school for inviting a minister to deliver prayers at graduation ceremonies.

Miller has also prevailed in many First Amendment lawsuits against other government entities, such as state governments that claim to have a public forum for a legislative prayer practice that allows community members to deliver opening remarks. In these instances, Miller has called upon the Satanists for support. One of her clients delivered a Satanic prayer at a Florida city council meeting. "This Satanic prayer gave Christians a mere taste of what it feels like to be Muslim, atheist, or Jewish at these city meetings that regularly open with Christian prayer."

And in 2014, Miller's work took her all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The association and several residents of Maryland's Prince George County sued to remove a 40-foot cross-shaped war memorial sitting on state property. The cross was built as a tribute to WWI soldiers and the state has spent more than $100,000 on maintaining it. Challengers saw it as an unconstitutional endorsement of a particular religion.

In a fractured decision, the Supreme Court allowed the cross to remain.

"Religion is being thrown around as a sword," Miller said. "It's making people wake up. I actually find more people who are religious coming to us reporting—people who are Christian—speaking out against Christian favoritism."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Monica Miller.

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin
12/22/2020

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin | Photo by Jay Mallin

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin JD/MELP'09 commenced her role as North American director for 350.org by orchestrating the largest-ever coordinated series of events on climate: the national climate strikes on September 20, 2019.

If anyone was poised to take on a task of this magnitude, it was Toles O'Laughlin. After graduating from Vermont Law School, Toles O'Laughlin interned for "every environmental organization possible" and then made a name for herself as executive director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. There, she was the chief architect of the Baltimore Climate Resolution, which unanimously passed the city council after U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. She has served on and led several environmental boards, including six years at the D.C. chapter of EcoWomen. And she has a network of VLS alumni to tap into. In short, after 21 years in meaningful environmental advocacy, she was up for the challenge.

At 350.org, Toles O'Laughlin got right to work, leading all teams in the United States and Canada, and acting as the liaison to global teams supporting strikes in 185 countries. The result? More than 7.6 million people participated in more than 6,100 events on September 20 and, during the week that followed, another 6,000 events led by members of 350's local networks in the United States.

Before the week of action, Toles O'Laughlin pushed for even more social change. She made inclusivity a priority for her teams—multigenerational, mutiracial, multi-able-bodied. She asked her teams to suggest people of color for interviews and to pitch stories to ethnic media outlets. She asked for more opportunities for people who couldn't risk getting arrested or walking out of school. She asked that events be accessible.

"Being excluded from making decisions and then having those same decisions impact your health, well-being, and right to thrive—it's the same thing whether you're talking about meat-packing, insecticides, and so on," noted Toles O'Laughlin. "If you exclude the people who are most likely to be harmed, you can conduct business a lot faster."

The week of action will likely go down in history as one of the biggest moments in facing climate change; and importantly, people from all demographics participated in paving the way toward lasting change.

"Mobilizing, striking—it was amazing—and creates conditions for more work to happen," Toles O'Laughlin said. "It emboldens legislators to write more aggressive and more courageous bills. We saw folks who are willing to push at the state and federal level, and the most engaged group of voters ever seen. We have elders who have hope: they feel like they can leave the planet in peace, because it's in good hands."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo by Jay Mallin.