Civil Rights Champion Robin Lenhardt (LL.M.’04) Returns to Georgetown to Help Lead New Racial Justice Institute

February 22, 2021

Professor Robin A. Lenhardt (LL.M.’04), a leading scholar on race and the family, has returned to Georgetown Law to serve on the faculty and co-lead the university’s new interdisciplinary Racial Justice Institute.

Dean William M. Treanor said a broad search led to successfully recruiting Lenhardt, who most recently served as faculty director of Fordham Law’s Center on Race, Law and Justice.

“I have known Professor Lenhardt since we were at the Department of Justice together more than 20 years ago, and I am a profound admirer of her work. She is a remarkable combination: a fiercely committed champion for civil rights, a brilliant scholar, a gifted institution builder, and a great teacher,” Treanor said. “I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome her back to Georgetown to co-lead the university’s crucial cross-campus commitment to building a leading academic center focused on racial justice.”

Lenhardt first came to Georgetown Law 18 years ago to pursue a fellowship for future law professors.

“Coming back to Georgetown is a gift beyond measure for me,” Lenhardt said. “That I can both be at a law school that’s making such important strides on so many of the things that I care about and also be involved in launching the Racial Justice Institute, which stands to make a huge impact on scholarship and policy bearing on race, is amazing.”

Lenhardt’s varied legal career has included public service, private practice and academic roles. She clerked for both U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Judge Hugh Bownes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and before entering legal academia worked at the Washington, D.C. office of the firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Lenhardt was an activist for racial justice in her student days and holds an A.B. degree in English from Brown University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an MPA from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, as well as her Georgetown LL.M.

At Wilmer, she pursued impact litigation, joining the legal team defending the University of Michigan in the landmark Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger affirmative action lawsuits. In a recent interview, she said that while practicing law was rewarding in many ways, she felt pulled back to academia.

“I was loving that work, but really feeling that there was something else I should be doing,” she said. “That desire to engage with words and ideas was still part of what I wanted to do.”

The Georgetown Law fellowship provided just the on-ramp she needed. While earning an LL.M., she had the time and space and professional collegiality to allow her to reflect on her experiences so far and begin to write. She published her first article while at Georgetown, and has been a law professor ever since.

One area of her scholarship focuses on using a family law model to better understand systems of racism and inequality. Much like analyzing dynamics within a family can reveal problems and harmful patterns, what she calls a “race audit” within a community may pinpoint root causes of prejudice and disparity. In a 2020 lecture she delivered at Georgetown Law, she explained it this way:

“It’s going back in time so we can understand the present and the future, and, to the extent that we’re able to do that, we can lay the groundwork for useful, purposeful solutions that make change.”

As she starts to move forward with developing and launching the Racial Justice Institute, Lenhardt is excited about the potential for bringing fresh perspectives on deep-seated challenges to the entire Georgetown community, and beyond.

“We’re going to be able to do a lot of things on the ground, in the Washington area and also nationally so that people nationwide will be able to see the kind of innovative thinking and commitment to justice that exist at Georgetown,” she said. “The administration is very committed to giving us real resources to build out something that’s really special. So I’m looking forward to that.”