PUBLISHED:November 09, 2011

Haley Warden '13

Haley Warden '13

While it’s not unusual for law students to find their niche early in their law school career, Haley Warden ’13 has taken a running head start in the world of civil rights and equality.

Warden spent her 1L summer as an intern with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in Washington, D.C. It was work that hit particularly close to home. Her partner is a United States Air Force veteran who was affected by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Issues of equality in the military were something I was just very aware of on a personal level,” said Warden, who was honored as a “Summer Stand-out” in Equal Justice Works’ Summer Corps program.

Since returning to Duke Law for the fall semester, Warden said her summer experience has proven quite useful.

“With the repeal of DADT, the Law School's stated policy on military recruiting became outdated, as it referred to an exception for JAG Corps recruiters from the nondiscrimination policy for sexual orientation,” Warden said. “Duke University has adopted a nondiscrimination policy that includes gender identity, and the Law School is subject to those policies as well. Because of my experience at SLDN, I've been sought out for information on the details of the military policy on transgender service and whether and how it should interact with Duke's policies and the Solomon Amendment.”

Unlike some students who come straight to Duke Law from receiving their undergraduate degree, Warden took more of a winding path.

“I think I resisted it for a while,” said Warden, who received a degree in Chinese from Yale University.

“I’ve kind of been all over,” Warden said. “I think the one strain that runs through everything is an abiding interest in freedom of thought and information. I became more appreciative and aware of that when living in China and encountering some really brilliant people at some of the best schools in the country, and some of my classmates didn’t really know what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989—in our lifetime.”

It was after returning home from China that Warden took a job in the advertising department at internet giant Google.

“Their company ethos is if you provide information, people will be better citizens of the world. That culture was really appealing,” Warden said.

Another nudge toward law school came in 2008 with Proposition 8 the gay marriage debate in California.

“I was there for that and I voted in that election,” Warden said. “I remember just feeling so sad, despite the excitement about Obama’s election. It was really jarring to feel like all these people in this supposedly liberal state are taking away my right to marry the person I love.”

As president of OUTLaw, Duke Law’s student affinity group for LGBT individuals and allies, Warden has become involved in the activity surrounding North Carolina’s Defense of Marriage Amendment, which will be on the primary ballot in May 2012.

“We have quite the year ahead of us,” said Warden, who planned and moderated a panel on the amendment for OUTLaw. The group plans to partner with Equality NC and other groups on campus to get Duke students registered to vote and to the polls in the spring.
Warden’s involvement in marriage equality has even extended to the classroom.

“I'm writing a note in an Independent Study this semester, and my goal is to craft model legislation for extending the right to marry same-sex couples, specifically discussing the appropriate scope of religious exemptions to marriage nondiscrimination laws,” Warden said. “It's proven to be really interesting research, and I'm looking forward to putting together the final project.”

Warden recalled a day in 2008 when she was still living in California, riding the Google shuttle and reading the majority opinion Strauss v. Horton, the case in which in the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8.

“I remember being so mad about it and taking notes in the margins—and this is when I’m an advertising person—about what I thought was unjust and terrible. Then I read the dissent and thought, he talks about all my points! This is amazing,” Warden said. “That kind of cemented why I’m here. It’s the lofty goals of the profession, with a capital P, to strive for justice and especially justice for unpopular or misunderstood minorities. It’s a force for good.”