Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan: The State's Human Rights Lawyer
The State's First Female Attorney General Discusses How Human Rights Issues Influence Her Work
New York, March 21, 2016—State Attorneys General employ a diverse set of tools to promote and protect civil and human rights explained Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan at a March 8 talk at Columbia Law School.
|Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan speaks to students about the ways in which her office’s work fosters compliance with U.S. human right commitments.
Madigan visited the Law School to speak about the many ways her work fosters compliance with U.S. human rights commitments and obligations. “States are often at the forefront” of protecting human rights, Madigan noted, explaining how the Illinois State Attorney General’s Office focuses on range of human rights issues, including gender-based violence, police accountability, and predatory and discriminatory lending. Madigan went on to describe how outreach, investigations, and lawsuits filed by her office played a complementary role in the landmark settlements that the Illinois Attorney General and the Department of Justice entered with Wells Fargo and Countrywide in 2012 to address the widespread practice of discriminatory mortgage loans.
On any given day, the Illinois State Attorney General’s office is defending Illinois in roughly 25,000 - 30,000 cases. Meanwhile Madigan has earned a reputation as a proactive advocate, initiating affirmative cases to protect housing rights, the environment, and consumers, among other issues.
|Madigan discusses the range of human rights issues her office handles, including gender-based violence, police accountability, and predatory and discriminatory lending.
“From my perspective, in spite of the fact that we do all this defense work, whenever I describe the attorney general’s office in Illinois, I always say I run the state’s largest public interest law firm, and it’s because of all of that affirmative work,” she said. “I view it as not just public interest. State attorneys general—whether they realize it or not—are human rights lawyers every single day.”
Madigan’s speech was the “grand finale” in this year’s Human Rights in the U.S. Speaker Series, said JoAnn Kamuf Ward, associate director of the Human Rights in the U.S. Project at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. The event was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Institute, the National State Attorneys General Program, and Social Justice Initiatives, with support from the F.F. Randolph Jr. Speakers Fund.
James Tierney, director of the Law School's National State Attorneys General program and former AG of Maine, moderates audience questions.
“Attorney General Madigan exemplifies the unique role that state attorneys general play within state government. Working at the intersection of law and policy, AGs counsel state actors, and represent the public interest in an array of areas,” said Jim Tierney, Director of the National State Attorneys General Program. The first female attorney general in Illinois, Madigan is the senior-most female attorney general in the country. Now in her fourth term, she is the longest serving attorney general in Illinois history. She has argued before the Supreme Court, and testified before Congress.
As a result of her distinguished record in Illinois, Madigan was invited to join the U.S. government’s delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in in Geneva, Switzerland in 2015. The Attorney General spoke to U.N. member countries about the strengths of U.S. human rights law and policy, as well as areas where progress can be made, as part of a review of the U.S. human rights record, known as the Universal Periodic Review. “She demonstrated not only the human rights values that underscore her work but a keen sense of how government and advocates can work together to advance common interests,” said Kamuf Ward, who met Madigan during a U.S. government-sponsored consultation held in Geneva in conjunction with the U.N. review.
JoAnn Kamuf Ward, associate director of the Human Rights in the U.S. Project within the Law School's Human Rights Institute, introduces Madigan.
Madigan noted that while state attorneys general protect civil and human rights everyday, it was the trip to the United Nations that helped solidify her conception of what it means to do human rights work in this public office. She described several tools that attorneys general have to promote human rights issues, beyond lawsuits and investigations, including policy advocacy, legal opinions, and speeches. Her examples from practice were wide-ranging. Working with partners across the state, including Human Rights Watch, Madigan helped make Illinois the first state to institute a protocol on rape kit testing to address a pervasive problem of non-testing, which hindered perpetrator accountability. More recently, in response to growing concern over the use of force by local law enforcement, her office requested that the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division undertake an investigation of the Police Force to identify whether a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing exists. Rights of non-citizens have been another focus of her work.
Madigan peppered her talk with “free advice” for students.
|Madigan engages with students, answering questions and offering career advice.
“You are at the preeminent law school in the country—take advantage of opportunities—classes, of a clinic, to really find a way to not just be engaged now but to shape your future and the future for people around the country,” Madigan said. “There are so many issues—economic inequality, excessive use of force by police departments, access to health care, access to justice issues—there are so many different ways you can find to intervene. I encourage you to do that while you’re here and to continue doing that for the rest of your lives.”
“Attorney General Madigan is a wonderful example of how impactful a career in public service can be,” said Rachel Pauley, Director of Government Programs, Social Justice Initiatives. “Her pragmatic advice and her personal trajectory are inspiring to all those considering a future career in government. One person can truly change the lives of many.”
Audio of Madigan’s talk is available here. In addition to her formal presentation, the Attorney General met with a small group of students and faculty while at Columbia Law School.