U-M Law Prof, Former Obama Top DOJ Civil Rights Official Bagenstos Joins PuLSE Institute

Samuel Bagenstos, the Frank G. Millard Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, and a former principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division under former President Barack Obama, has joined The PuLSE Institute as a senior fellow at the Academy of Fellows.

At The PuLSE Institute, Bagenstos will focus on civil rights, health and housing law, and how government can create anti-poverty policies and participate in forums organized by the Institute. He’s the latest addition to Detroit’s independent anti-poverty think tank, which is leading the debate around the need to confront inequality in the economic recovery of the largest black city in America.

Bagenstos, who served as the No. 2 official in the Obama Justice Department Civil Rights Division from 2009-2011, teaches constitutional and civil rights litigation at the University of Michigan. He earned his JD, magna cum laude from Harvard University Law School in 1993, where he received the Fay Diploma and was articles office co-chair of the Harvard Law Review. He received his BA, with highest honors and highest distinction from the University of North Carolina. Prior to joining the Michigan Law faculty, Bagenstos was a professor of law and, from 2007 to 2008, also associate dean for research and faculty development at Washington University School of Law. He has been on the faculty of Harvard Law School and was a visiting professor at University of California-Los Angeles School of Law. He clerked for the Hon. Stephen Reinhardt on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for one year and later served as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Bagenstos currently chairs the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the state agency that enforces the rights of public employees to unionize and collectively bargain.

“I’m very excited to collaborate with the distinguished team at The PuLSE Institute. I’ve spent my career attacking discrimination, fighting for social justice, and seeking to ensure that everyone can truly enjoy the food, water, shelter, health care, and education that I believe are basic human rights.  Much of my scholarship and advocacy has focused on the way law and policy disempower poor people – and on the tools that the law can provide to attack poverty, segregation, and their consequences for individuals and society,” Bagenstos said. “The PuLSE Institute is an outstanding partner, and I’m honored to be associated with them.  The Institute has built a reputation for hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is advocacy, backed by the highest quality scholarship and thinking, on the most urgent problems facing poor people in Detroit and elsewhere.  As we face a global pandemic that has hit Detroit and its poorest residents especially hard, and will soon confront renewed calls for austerity in response to perceived fiscal constraints, The PuLSE Institute’s work is more urgent than ever.”

In a distinguished career over the years, Bagenstos has consulted with civil rights organizations and remains an active appellate and U.S. Supreme Court litigator in civil rights and federalism cases. He has argued four cases before the Supreme Court, including Young v. United Parcel Service, 135 S. Ct 1338 (2015), which established new protections for pregnant workers, and United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151 (2006), which upheld, as applied to his client’s case, the constitutionality of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He has also testified before Congress on several occasions, including in support of the Fair Pay Restoration Act, the ADA Amendments Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as on the application of the ADA to advancing technology and the problem of mental illness in prisons.

Attorney Tina M. Patterson, a Detroit native who heads The PuLSE Institute as president and director of research said Bagenstos coming on board is important to the overall mission of the Institute.

The PuLSE Institute is the preeminent anti-poverty voice in Detroit, backed by a high degree of moral authority with more than a century’s worth of investment in the global fight against poverty, reflected by the members of our esteemed National Advisory Panel. Our mission is a moral call to history which we demonstrate in the work we do on a daily basis in fighting for anti-poverty polices in our community and beyond. Because of this, we gladly welcome Sam Bagenstos to the Academy of Fellows,” Patterson said. “His illustrious career of defending civil rights at the highest levels of government and instructing the next generation of lawyers to uphold these cherished human dignities makes him a valuable addition to our team as someone who has been fighting for equality in the human condition.”

The founding of The PuLSE Institute was inspired by the writings of prominent Detroit journalist and author Bankole Thompson, whose illuminating and influential work on economic and racial justice issues has elevated the discourse around poverty and inequality in the city. Thompson serves as the editor-in-chief of the Institute and the dean of the Academy of Fellows.

“Sam Bengenstos is a committed individual who brings with him the scholarship and the passion to fight injustice. He recognizes the significant role that The PuLSE Institute plays in the unrelenting quest to make addressing poverty a top priority for those who are in leadership positions both in government and civic society in Detroit,” Thompson said. “Evidently all is not well in Detroit. There is an undying need for a moral economy. That is why the powerful moral platform that The PuLSE Institute commands in this age will be used to advance ideas that will fight poverty. We welcome Sam on board and eagerly look forward to his contributions to the ideas that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., championed, and that we all are now challenged to continue to advocate for and not look the other way at a time when so many Detroiters have been relegated to a perennial underclass.”  

Last year, Washington Post nationally syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda, profiled the work of The PuLSE Institute in a column describing it as a national model for cities working to tackle poverty. Lawrence Technological University in Southfield also announced last year that it will inculcate the work of the Institute in its MBA program for students to identify business solutions to poverty.

Leading members of The PuLSE Institute include the National Advisory Panel consisting of Dr. Arun Gandhi, global justice advocate and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi; Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a top aide of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign; Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK and a leading Catholic anti-poverty crusader; Robert Weiner, former White House spokesman; Herb Boyd, historian, journalist and author of consequential books on James Baldwin and Malcolm X; Luba Lukova, an internationally visual artist for social justice; Rev. Lawrence T. Foster, Harvard-trained theologian and mentee of Martin Luther King Sr.; and Janis F. Kearney, first presidential diarist under former President Bill Clinton.

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