Published: Nov. 6, 2023 By

On Thursday, October 26, 2023, the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law hosted Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna for the 12th Annual Steven’s Lecture at Colorado Law. Justice McKenna is a trailblazer as the first openly LGBTQ Asian American Justice on the Hawaii Supreme Court. Among her many accomplishments and accolades, Justice McKenna recently received the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession's most prestigious award for women lawyers nationwide—the 2023 ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. 

Not only did this year’s Stevens Lecture attract a Colorado audience of law students, lawyers, judges and legal scholars, but participants from all over the United States and the world! Participants joined the lecture from Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and countries such as India, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Georgia.  

The Stevens Lecture was co-sponsored by several Colorado Law organizations (the Asian and Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA); the Womxn of Color Collective (WOCC); & Outlaw) and state bar organizations (the Colorado LGBT Bar Association & the Asian and Pacific American Bar Association (APABA)). The Byron White Center is truly grateful for their partnership, which helped to make the program such a success.

BWC Stevens Lecture

This year the Stevens Lecture took the form of a fireside chat, with Professor Suzette Malveaux, Director of the Byron White Center, asking questions of Justice McKenna. The Justice’s focus was “State Constitutional Law: The Critical Course Missing from Most Law Schools.” The Justice shared insights about the historical and growing importance of state constitutional law, what makes Hawaii’s constitution so special, and why a diverse judiciary is necessary to the rule of law. She also reflected on Hawaii’s groundbreaking jurisprudence in areas like climate justice, reproductive rights, and marriage equality. 

Student leaders from the sponsoring organizations followed up with questions about colonialism, personal challenges and triumphs, female leadership and the importance of perseverance. Leo Nyguen, a third year law student shared, “I am incredibly grateful to have been able to represent APABA in participating in an event with a trailblazer in the legal community who has broken barriers for and inspired AAPI people, women, and LGBTQ people.”

After the lecture, guests flowed into Boettcher Hall to mix and mingle over light refreshments. Student leaders, law professors, alumni, attorneys and judges gathered with the Justice to learn more. Adora Bertero, President of Outlaw expressed, “Queer students back home in Texas don't have opportunities like this, where we get to sit down and speak with leading scholars like Justice McKenna. It's incredible to be able to ask questions about legal policies that affect my communities from someone who actually represents my communities, and I'm excited to see what next year's Lecture holds.” The Colorado legal community and beyond left educated and inspired by Justice McKenna's brilliance, tenacity, and leadership.

A full recording of the fireside chat is available here.