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July 01, 2014

Human Rights Hero: Sister Simone Campbell

by Judge Gordon Baranco, Commissioner Elizabeth Hendrickson

Sister Simone Campbell is most well known as the leader of the “Nuns on the Bus,” the group of Catholic nuns who traveled 2,700 miles through nine states in 2012 highlighting the church’s work to serve working and poor communities and protesting the Romney/Ryan budget proposals to eliminate federal safety-net programs like Headstart and food stamps.

However, the Oakland, California (Alameda County), legal community knows her as attorney Simone Campbell, founder and directing attorney of the nonprofit Community Law Center. She began her distinguished career of public service by providing affordable legal services for 18 years to families. The characteristics we know and love about her—her intelligence, wit, perseverance, charm, and relentless pursuit of justice for her clients—are traits we see serving her well on the national and international stage.

Sister Simone, as she is now referred to by her millions of admirers, is a California native, raised and educated in Southern California, who joined her religious order, the Sisters of Social Service, at 19. At that young age, she was already committed to using her religious beliefs as a framework to pursue social justice.

She attended the Martin Luther King Jr. School of Law at the University of California at Davis and, while there, researched how she could best use her law degree to serve the community. She identified Alameda County as in dire need of affordable legal services and, after graduation, she became a member of the Alameda County legal community. In addition to leading the Community Law Center and representing thousands of clients, she was active in local bar activities focused on how the private bar could better serve more underserved litigants.

She left direct legal services in 1995 to lead her Order for the next five years. This position took her worldwide, including Latin America, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Sister Simone then served as the executive director of Jericho, an interfaith organization based in California that focuses on poverty. She currently is the executive director of NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby based in Washington, D.C.

Sister Simone is seen regularly on national television, including at hearings on Capitol Hill and as a featured speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. There, she defined her support for the Affordable Care Act as “part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do.” She speaks eloquently and emphatically in support of America’s working poor. This has not always endeared her to the Catholic hierarchy. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops failed to support the Affordable Care Act, Sister Simone organized 59 Catholic organizations to sign a letter of support for the Act. This crucial support was acknowledged by President Obama, who invited her to the Act’s signing ceremony.

In 2012, the Vatican censured the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and cited Sister Simone’s organization, NETWORK. Sister Simone’s response was to organize the Nuns on the Bus tour.

In 2013, Sister Simone participated in a second Nuns on the Bus tour, focusing on comprehensive immigration reform. This year, she published A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.

We couldn’t be prouder of Sister Simone, and we congratulate her on this latest honor. Keep up the good work!



Judge Gordon Baranco serves on the Alameda County (California) Superior Court bench and is a member of the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty. Commissioner Elizabeth Hendrickson serves on the same court and was a colleague of Sister Simone Campbell during her years as a lawyer in Alameda County.