An upstander and now a wayfinder: Martha Minow on law and forgiveness, at TEDWomen

300th Anniversary University Professor and former HLS dean speaks at annual conference

In early December, Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor and former Harvard Law School dean, was among several speakers invited to participate in TEDWomen 2019, an annual conference that highlights the contributions and ideas of notable women across a number of fields. Recognized as a “Wayfinder,” Minow shared her thoughts on the subject of law and forgiveness, a focus of her most recent scholarship.

Beginning early in her academic career, Minow devoted herself to fighting injustice. In the 1970s, she became involved in the school desegregation and school finance equalization battles. She said she acquired a law degree to “get a seat at the table” to work on these and other issues. After law school, she served as a law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, architect of litigation for civil rights, and Judge David Bazelon, a judicial leader for disadvantaged people. As a legal scholar, she has focused her scholarship on access to justice for low-income individuals and human rights around the world.

While addressing global challenges to democracy, rights and decency, she discovered opportunities for forgiveness of debt, fines and wrongdoing, which she found have been neglected. This message is all the more crucial in the midst of a pandemic, which exposes even more people to burdensome debts, incarceration that jeopardizes public health and the traps made by law itself.

“As the pandemic raises urgent questions about forgiving debts and unpaid rent, releasing people from jails and prisons, and putting aside political resentments to focus on the future, forgiveness in law and politics gains intense relevance,” said Minow. “Letting go of justified grievances is actually a resource for a more inclusive form of justice, one that looks to the future, not just the past and to the larger patterns that implicate more than the immediate wrongdoer in human problems.”

First held in 2010, TEDWomen is a three-day conference featuring a program of speakers, workshops, events and discussions highlighting the power of women and girls to be creators and changemakers.


Letting Go

Forgiveness in an age of ‘justified resentments’

The “Upstander”

Focus on Justice