November 1-3, the Justice Center hosted Patrice L. Simms, Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities at Earthjustice, as a G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar in Residence. During the visit, Simms led two events, participated in several classes, and met with students individually and in small groups.
Simms is an environmental attorney and thought leader with twenty-five years in the environmental law arena. In addition to his role at EarthJustice, Simms is the Co-founder and Strategic Advisor for People over Plastic and a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. Before joining Earthjustice, he was a member of the faculty at Howard University School of Law, leading the school’s environmental law programming. Earlier, Simms served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division during the Obama Administration. Over the course of his career, Simms has also worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Office of General Counsel and with its Environmental Appeals Board, and as a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
While at the law school, Simms led a panel discussion with community advocates, focusing on issues at the intersection of environment, climate, and racial and social justice. The panel included Tricia Cortez, Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Study Center in Laredo, TX; Mary Black, an environmental liberation advocate/organizer and Council Member of the Raleigh City Council in Raleigh, NC; and Alexia Leclercq, an environmental justice organizer and Policy Director at PODER in Austin. With Simms asking questions and drawing out themes, the advocates explained how they came to be involved in environmental justice work, the importance of narrative and storytelling, and their roles in amplifying voices that would not otherwise be included in conversations affecting the health of their communities.
“Patrice, Alexia, Mary, and Tricia were so generous with their time. Their stories shared during the panel provided great examples of individuals envisioning, working for, and creating cleaner, safer futures for their communities,” said Kelly Haragan, director of the Environmental Clinic, which cosponsored the event. “Their participation in my Environmental Clinic class later in the day allowed us to talk more deeply about how to maintain hope in the face of daunting environmental challenges and how lawyers can work alongside communities to make change.”
Later in the week, Simms met with students over lunch for a conversation about his path pursuing social justice in government, nonprofit, and academic settings. “Patrice did a great job explaining his career arc and drawing out some transferable takeaways,” said Mary Crouter of the Justice Center, who helped organize the visit. “For instance, he explained how he developed expertise in air quality issues in his first job at the EPA, expertise that set him up for future success. The students in attendance were eager listeners and had many questions.”
“As a law student exploring what a career in environmental law might look like, Patrice’s insights from roles in government agencies, nonprofits, and higher education were invaluable,” said 2L Josh McClain. “He was extremely generous in sharing both practical insights—differences in the work and approach of various EPA offices, for example—and the moral grounding of his work. Speaking to him was educational and, even more importantly, deeply affirming of the importance of pursuing environmental justice.”
Simms’ visit to Texas Law as a G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar in Residence was supported by a generous gift from the G. Rollie White Trust. The program brings outstanding legal scholars, practitioners and advocates from the field of public service to Texas Law to foster discussion of issues related to public interest law, to raise the profile of lawyers working in this area, and to encourage students to view public service as an honored and expected part of every legal career. Simms is Texas Law’s eleventh G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar in Residence.
“We extend our heartfelt thanks to Patrice for his remarkable generosity in sharing his time and expertise,” said Nicole Simmons, director of the Justice Center. “Additionally, we are deeply grateful to the G. Rollie White Trust for its longstanding support of the G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar in Residence program, which made Patrice’s visit possible.”