Welcome. I’m glad you’ve found me!
I’m Joyce Vance, a former United States Attorney, currently a law professor and a legal analyst for MSNBC and NBC. I also co-host two podcasts, #SistersInLaw and Cafe’s Insider. I believe that being a citizen is the most important work any of us can do. As citizens, a key part of our role is to educate ourselves and stay informed.
There’s a wonderful story about Ben Franklin. As it’s told, he was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and a woman shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” (I love that it was a woman.) Franklin is said to have responded: “A republic, madam…if you can keep it.”
I’d like to be a part of keeping the republic. That’s why I decided to start this substack, Civil Discourse.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to serve at the Justice Department for more than 25 years. I started out as a line prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama in 1991. After ten years prosecuting criminal cases, I moved into our appellate division and served as the chief of that division before becoming one of the very first U.S. Attorneys appointed by Barack Obama and confirmed (unanimously if you can believe it in this day and age) by the Senate.
Having had that honor, I believe I have an ongoing obligation to share the knowledge I acquired about our government and our legal system and to help others understand how they are supposed to work. I’ll write every week about the issues of the moment, the ones that matter the most to help you stay informed. And I’ll explain how things work, in plain English, to make the issues accessible.
Because we’ll be a community, I’ll be able to help you untangle the questions that interest you the most. We can dig into issues like:
how grand juries work & why DOJ operates with so much secrecy
what the government has to prove to convict defendants of a conspiracy
why so many ethical guardrails failed during the Trump administration and what Congress can do to restore them
what each of us can do to protect the right to vote
Whatever the most pressing issues of the week are, in the moment. It will be part civics and part law school and we’ll do it here. When the onslaught of news is overwhelming, we’ll start with the basics. We’ll make sure we understand new developments. We’ll focus on the steps each of us can take — sometimes, that’s the most frustrating part, not knowing what we can do as individuals. We’ll keep the Republic. And we’ll enjoy ourselves while we do it. I’ll share life with my chickens (a pandemic thing), the rest of our menagerie, and my knitting (since I was 4) and look forward to learning about how you keep yourself balanced.
We deserve better than the craven leadership of the Trump administration and the self-serving antics of far too many of his followers, who care more about party and their own political futures, than country. The rule of law matters. We’ve got work to do.
We’re in this together.