WASHINGTON, DC – Growing up as a first-generation Muslim girl in Wayne County, Michigan, General Counsel Fadwa Hammoud says that when she came to Michigan from Lebanon, she barely knew any English, not to mention lawyers or women lawyers.
However, that never deterred Hammoud from pursuing her goals, and this week she made history as the first Arab-American Muslim woman to litigate a case in the United States Supreme Court.
“It was truly an honor and a privilege to be able to represent our state, my team, our attorney general, our office at the highest court in the land. The moment was surreal, but I knew it was important, ”Hammoud told FOX 17 Thursday.
“I think that more than our various names and our various faces, we bring various arguments; we bring everything that our communities, our cultures, our origins, our public universities have to offer with us to the Supreme Court, and truly, the judiciary and the bar benefit from this collective experience, ”said Hammoud. “So was it great that I was the first one?” I accept this, and I welcome it, and the overall mission is to ensure that these two areas are inclusive and that I am not the last, ”she added.
It was not the first historic achievement of his young career. In 2019, she became the youngest Solicitor General in Michigan history and the first Arab American to hold that position in the United States.
She hopes her story will inspire the next generation.
“I really feel like all the phone calls I get from college students, young women, have been just one more layer of why this is so important. I think it comes from people like Attorney General Dana Nessel, who understands this diversity in the workplace, and to ensure that our workplaces represent the people of our state and look like the people of our state. It’s just as important as the most intellectually thought-out legal argument, because of all we can add to that argument. So I hope that young girls see me, not just as an exception, but that it is the norm and that they can do it too.
Full interview with Fadwa Hammoud
Here is the background to the case she argued from the Michigan attorney general’s office:
In 2007, Ervine Davenport was convicted of murder by the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court. He strangled Annette White to death, threw her body in a field, then went to her apartment and stole her property. Davenport later boasted of having it “offensive”.
Davenport was shackled at trial and the trial court did not record the reasons he was shackled.
The state admits this was a constitutional error, but it was a harmless error given that the evidence of Davenport’s guilt was overwhelming.
The case was tried on the merits by a state court, which found the obstruction error to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Davenport then filed a habeas corpus petition in the Federal District Court; this court upheld the state court’s findings of harmless error in the Davenport case.
Then, in September 2020, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, overturning the Federal District Court’s refusal to grant a habeas corpus remedy.
The state filed a certiorari petition to challenge the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, arguing that the Sixth Circuit applied the wrong test and in so doing ignored the standard that Congress incorporated into Section 2254 of Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 USC 2254, and as the United States Supreme Court jurisprudence on habeas corpus has pointed out: no writ will be granted in respect of a claim that has been adjudicated on the merits in proceedings before a state court, unless the state court’s decision conflicted with, or involved an unreasonable application of a clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. The United States Supreme Court granted the petition.
The question before the Supreme Court is what is the appropriate test for a federal habeas court considering a constitutional harmlessness error. The state will explain to the High Court that when a state court has ruled on a criminal case on the merits, a federal habeas judge must show deference to the court’s decision. State before granting relief, as Congress required when it enacted the AEDPA in 1996. The federal judge cannot simply substitute his own judgment for the judgment of a state court when it does not contradict or is not an unreasonable application of Federal law.
The State argues that a two-step approach is the appropriate test: the habeas judge must independently analyze whether the constitutional error at issue had a substantial and prejudicial effect on the jury’s verdict and, in deference to the decision of the state court, must also analyze whether an impartial lawyer could have agreed that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The two tests are distinct and both are necessary, as confirmed by United States Supreme Court case law. In this case, contrary to this two-step request, the Sixth Circuit proceeded without giving due deference to our state court decisions. The Sixth Circuit did not determine whether an impartial jurist could agree with the findings of state courts. And the Sixth Circuit has looked at its own circuit precedent and extrajudicial sources, which is inappropriate under a habeas review.