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October 14, 2020 MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Ashley N. Baker

Ashley N. Baker is an Assistant District Attorney (bar admission pending) for the City of Philadelphia and a recent graduate of Southern University Law Center. Ashley is a Co-Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, Vice Chair of the African American Affairs Committee, and a member of the Death Penalty Due Process Review Project. Prior to joining the Section, Ashley served as the Delegate of Communication, Publications, and Outreach for the Law Student Division, where she oversaw the Division's publications including hosting the Law Student Podcast. Ashley has served as a member of the House of Delegates Tellers Committee and a Vice Chair to the TIPS committee on Transportation Litigation.

Ashley has spent her time with the Section developing, researching, and drafting policies involving voting rights, policing reform, and advocating for the humane treatment of prisoners. Ashley recently served as a panelist for a recent webinar: Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on African Americans and Communities of Color.

 Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?

I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. I am a Co-Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, Vice Chair of the African American Affairs Committee, and a member of the Death Penalty Due Process Review Project. Prior to joining the Section, I served as a Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates for the Law Student Division, where I also oversaw the Division’s publications: the Law Student Podcast, the Before the Bar blog, and Student Lawyer magazine. I have authored a number of articles and was the host of the Law Student Podcast during the 2018-2019 bar year. I have also served on the Tellers Committee of the House of Delegates and as a Vice Chair of the TIPS Transportation Litigation Committee.

I recognized early on that the ABA has an important role in our society. I was particularly drawn to our Section when I attended my first House of Delegates meeting. I watched as the Section’s Delegates presented a number of resolutions on a number of social issues and I knew one day I would be a member of the Section. 

What drives you?

Put simply, I believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly, equally. Treating people fairly starts with love. I am a Christian and the bible teaches about the ten commandments, but it also says that the most important of these things is love. To me, love is the center of everything.

What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?

Law is a second career for me. I have been a licensed truck driver (Yes, tractor-trailers.) for over ten years and I have taught hundreds of people how to drive semis. Last year, I authored a book entitled The Art of Commercial Trucking: Hours of Service. I left trucking because I wanted to make a difference.

I decided to pursue a career in law because I wanted to be in a position to effect change. I remember watching and hearing about various issues that negatively affected people’s lives, and feeling powerless. One of these issues was gun violence in the city of Chicago. Gun violence there impacts the African American community in so many ways. One year I decided to write letters, one on behalf of each victim of gun violence that year. I wrote and mailed well-over three hundred letters to city Aldermen, the Mayor, members of Congress, members of the Illinois legislature. I received only 7 or 8 responses. I knew then that I needed to be on the receiving end of those letters and on a path to a legal career.

When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?

I want, I hope someone’s life is changed for the better by the work I have done. I hope something I say or write makes a difference. That’s the only reason there is to do this work. And as a Black woman, I want little girls that look like me to know that their lives matter. And if they have dreams of making a difference, they can. If they want to go to law school, they can. If they want to write policies, they can. Having that example is important, because now as a law school graduate and a prosecutor, I look back on the people that influenced me as a little girl and wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t met the few Black lawyers that created opportunities for me to see into my own future. 

What is one issue which you care about or work most on and why?

The first thing that comes to mind is the treatment of incarcerated people. Society tends to forget about people once they are convicted of a crime. This is evident by the way our criminal justice system makes it hard for people once they are released to find jobs, housing, and obtain the resources they need to be productive members of society. It’s evident in the fact that prisoners aren’t given adequate amounts of soap, in some cases the lack of running water, or broken sinks. In most states, prisoners do not have the right to vote.  In some states, it will be permanently stripped away. I imagine a different criminal justice system.

What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing this issue today?

It’s a hidden injustice. One that people tend to, once they hear about, get upset and then move on with their lives as if inhumane conditions are a part of a person’s prison sentence. It is one that people justify with ideas that criminals deserve less than equal treatment. It is an idea that has been perpetuated throughout history and has to stop somewhere, and there is no time like now. Society, instead of viewing a criminal as a person who made a mistake, views people convicted of crimes as a wholly different category of people. It is that type of separatism that created racism, sexism, classism, etc. It has to end.

In what corners do you find the greatest support in propelling these issues you work on? In other words, who are your most frequent allies?

My mother is my biggest support. My mom isn’t a lawyer, but every idea that I have for policy, I run it by her first. Sometimes we engage in robust debates on various topics. My mom was the first person to teach me the difference between right and wrong. She showed me what fairness meant, and was the person that explained, to me, how the world worked and answered my endless questions on “why.” My mom is the reason I feel like I can do anything, be anything, and that anything is possible. 

What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about?

The House of Delegates adopted three of our resolutions on these issues at the last annual meeting. I authored a resolution on voting rights for incarcerated people. It calls for the federal government as well as state and local governments to repeal statutes that prohibit people convicted of crimes from voting. If states adopted this policy, people would never lose their right to vote, even while in prison.

Currently, I am researching hate crimes statutes. I hope to see some policy in the near future directed at states that have not passed a hate crime statute based on race/ethnicity. Given the history of our country and the recent race reckoning, it’s time for every state to have such a statute on the books.