Elizabeth Wydra ’98 and Zack Smith on Supreme Court’s Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade

Published by Washington Journal, on C-SPAN (June 25, 2022)

Elizabeth Wydra (CMC ’98), Mgrublian Center Advisory Board Member and President of the Constitutional Accountability Center discusses the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade with Heritage Foundation’s Zack Smith in a conversation moderated by C-SPAN’s Mimi Geerges.

Following her graduation from CMC in 1998, Wydra received her JD from Yale Law School where she also served as the editor of the Yale Journal of International Law and the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. Named a legal star (top 40 under 40) by the National Law Journal, Ms. Wydra has excelled as a scholar and activist. She started as a law clerk for federal Judge James R. Browning in San Francisco and has since been admitted to practice in the Supreme Court and several US Courts of Appeals across the US. She is a member of the National Constitution Center’s Coalition of Freedom Advisory Board, and was elected member of the DC Bar Section on Criminal Law and Individual Rights. She was Chief Counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center for eight years before being named President in 2016. The Center has become a leading voice and influential force in pushing for more progressive interpretations of the constitution, arguing in defense of the Affordable Care Act and drawing attention to the history of the 13th Amendment. She is also a prominent spokesperson, appearing frequently on CNN and other media outlets and also quoted in the NY Times, USA Today, Politico, Reuters, Slate, Washington Post, etc. 

Follow this link to view her recent conversation with Zack Smith (Heritage Foundation) regarding the Supreme Court’s June 24th decision to overturn Roe v. Wade:


Russia’s Genocide Handbook

The evidence of atrocity and of intent mounts

By Tim Snyder (published on April 8)

Russia has just issued a genocide handbook for its war on Ukraine.  The Russian official press agency “RIA Novosti” published last Sunday an explicit program for the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such.  It is still available for viewing, and has now been translated several times into English.

As I have been saying since the war began, “denazification” in official Russian usage just means the destruction of the Ukrainian state and nation.  A “Nazi,” as the genocide manual explains, is simply a human being who self-identifies as Ukrainian.  According to the handbook, the establishment of a Ukrainian state thirty years ago was the “nazification of Ukraine.”  Indeed “any attempt to build such a state” has to be a “Nazi” act.  Ukrainians are “Nazis” because they fail to accept “the necessity that the people support Russia.”  Ukrainians should suffer for believing that they exist as a separate people; only this can lead to the “redemption of guilt.”

For anyone still out there who believes that Putin’s Russia opposes the extreme right in Ukraine or anywhere else, the genocide program is a chance to reconsider.  Putin’s Russian regime talks of “Nazis” not because it opposes the extreme right, which it most certainly does not, but as a rhetorical device to justify unprovoked war and genocidal policies. Putin’s regime is the extreme right.  It is the world center of fascism. It supports fascists and extreme-right authoritarians around the world.  In traducing the meaning of words like “Nazi,” Putin and his propagandists are creating more rhetorical and political space for fascists in Russia and elsewhere.  

The genocide handbook explains that the Russian policy of “denazification” is not directed against Nazis in the sense that the word is normally used.  The handbook grants, with no hesitation, that there is no evidence that Nazism, as generally understood, is important in Ukraine.  It operates within the special Russian definition of “Nazi”: a Nazi is a Ukrainian who refuses to admit being a Russian.  The “Nazism” in question is “amorphous and ambivalent”; one must, for example, be able to see beneath the world of appearance and decode the affinity for Ukrainian culture or for the European Union as “Nazism.”

The actual history of actual Nazis and their actual crimes in the 1930s and 1940s is thus totally irrelevant and completely cast aside.  This is perfectly consistent with Russian warfighting in Ukraine.  No tears are shed in the Kremlin over Russian killing of Holocaust survivors or Russian destruction of Holocaust memorials, because Jews and the Holocaust have nothing to do with the Russian definition of “Nazi.”  This explains why Volodymyr Zelens’kyi, although a democratically-elected president, and a Jew with family members who fought in the Red Army and died in the Holocaust, can be called a Nazi.  Zelens’kyi is a Ukrainian, and that is all that “Nazi” means. 

On this absurd definition, where Nazis have to be Ukrainians and Ukrainians have to be Nazis, Russia cannot be fascist, no matter what Russians do.  This is very convenient.  If “Nazi” has been assigned the meaning “Ukrainian who refuses to be Russian” then it follows that no Russian can be a Nazi.  Since for the Kremlin being a Nazi has nothing to do with fascist ideology, swastika-like symbols, big lies, rallies, rhetoric of cleansings, aggressive wars, abductions of elites, mass deportations, and the mass killing of civilians, Russians can do all of these things without ever having to ask if they themselves on the wrong side of the historical ledger.  And so we find Russians implementing fascist policies in the name of “denazification.” 

The Russian handbook is one of the most openly genocidal documents I have ever seen.  It calls for the liquidation of the Ukrainian state, and for abolition of any organization that has any association with Ukraine.  It postulates that the “majority of the population” of Ukraine are “Nazis,” which is to say Ukrainians. (This is clearly a reaction to Ukrainian resistance; at war’s beginning the assumption was that there were only a few Ukrainians and that they would be easily eliminated.  This was clear in another text published in RIA Novosti, the victory declaration of 26 February.)  Such people, “the majority of the population,” so more than twenty million people, are to be killed or sent to work in “labor camps” to expurgate their guilt for not loving Russia.  Survivors are to be subject to “re-education.”  Children will be raised to be Russian.  The name “Ukraine” will disappear. 

A girl looks back as she is being evacuated from Irpin. Many civilians who remained in that Kyiv suburb were murdered by Russian servicemen. According to local officials, their bodies were then crushed with tanks.

Had this genocide handbook appeared at some other time and in a more obscure outlet, it might have escaped notice.  But it was published right in the middle of the Russian media landscape during a Russian war of destruction explicitly legitimated by the Russian head of state’s claim that a neighboring nation did not exist.  It was published on a day when the world was learning of a mass murder of Ukrainians committed by Russians. 

Russia’s genocide handbook was published on April 3, two days after the first revelation that Russian servicemen in Ukraine had murdered hundreds of people in Bucha, and just as the story was reaching major newspapers.  The Bucha massacre was one of several cases of mass killing that emerged as Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region.  This means that the genocide program was knowingly published even as the physical evidence of genocide was emerging.  The writer and the editors chose this particular moment to make public a program for the elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such. 

As a historian of mass killing, I am hard pressed to think of many examples where states explicitly advertise the genocidal character of their own actions right at at the moment those actions become public knowledge.  From a legal perspective, the existence of such a text (in the larger context of similar statements and Vladimir Putin’s repeated denial that Ukraine exists) makes the charge of genocide far easier to make.  Legally, genocide means both actions that destroy a group in whole or in part, combined with some intention to do so.  Russia has done the deed and confessed to the intention.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Statement on Damage to Babyn Yar

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strongly condemns the continued Russian attacks on the Ukrainian people and loss of innocent lives, the exploitation of the Holocaust as a pretext for these attacks, the blatant disregard for historical truth, and the attack today at one of the most important memorial sites of the Holocaust. At Babyn Yar, outside of Kyiv, in just two days in September 1941, over 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot by Nazi Germany’s forces with assistance from their local collaborators. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is so bravely leading the Ukrainian people at this time, visited the Museum last fall to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre and emphasize his country’s commitment to preserving Holocaust sites, remembering the victims, and securing historical truth. We stand with him and the Ukrainian people during these critical times. 

Ambassador (ret) Stuart E. Eizenstat, Chairman, US Holocaust Memorial Council

Allan M. Holt, Vice Chairman, US Holocaust Memorial Council

Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, US Holocaust Memorial Museum

(The above statement was posted on the USHMM website on March 1, 2022)

2022 Elbaz Family Post-Graduate Fellowship

The Mgrublian Center is now accepting applications for the Elbaz Family Post-Graduate Fellowship in Human Rights!

Program details:

This fellowship program is open to all CMC seniors graduating in May 2022 who are interested in pursuing a career in human rights, Holocaust, and genocide studies or prevention.  The fellowship will be awarded for one year following graduation during which the recipient will receive funding for a position within a major human rights organization (to be identified by the fellow or through partnerships maintained by the Mgrublian Center). Ideally the position should focus on one or more of these areas: leadership training; project management skills; field work and research; professional networking; and advocacy work to advance human rights.  The fellowship could lead to full time work or preparation for graduate school.  The Mgrublian Center will award up to $50,000 to cover living expenses for the one-year duration of the fellowship.  Upon conclusion of the fellowship, the fellow will return to CMC to present a public lecture. 

To apply, submit the following via email:

  • Cover letter identifying the proposed employer/human rights organization, and a description of work and goals for the year
  • Correspondence with the proposed host organization as a point of contact and as evidence of interest in supporting your application
  • Resumé
  • Transcript
  • Two letters of recommendation (emailed directly to the Center)

Application deadline:  Thursday, March 31st, 2022

Questions?  Contact Kirsti Zitar or Professor Wendy Lower to learn more about this opportunity or to discuss your application.

Research Fellowships – Call for Applications!

The Mgrublian Center for Human Rights is currently accepting applications for the 8th annual Human Rights Student Research Fellowship Program.

Research fellows work closely with a faculty advisor on a year-long (2021-22 academic year) project related to the Holocaust, human rights, or genocide studies.   Fellows will be provided with office space at the Center and access to the Center’s library and other resources.   Each fellowship recipient will receive a $500 stipend to be used toward research materials and/or field research expenses.  Seniors working on relevant honors theses are encouraged to apply.  Past fellowship projects can be found on our website.

Application process: Submit your research proposal, resume, and transcript via our website.

Application deadline: Friday, September 24th

Questions?  Contact Kirsti Zitar, kzitar@cmc.edu

Now Hiring!

The Mgrublian Center is now hiring Student Assistants and Human Rights Legal Assistants for the 2021-22 academic year.  We are looking for creative students with strong research, writing and communication skills, and a commitment to the values of the Center.

Student Assistant

  • Act as a liaison with the Center’s volunteer human rights task force groups
  • Promote Center events on campus through creation of flyers and via social media
  • Assist faculty with human rights research
  • Update the Center’s library and maintain inventory
  • Edit and create the Center’s quarterly Newsletter

Other responsibilities and duties may arise during the course of the school year. The approximate time commitment is 5-10 hours per week. Positions are open to CMC freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior applicants and to both work-study and non-work study students.   

Apply in handshake: https://cmc.joinhandshake.com/jobs/5180215 (job ID#5180215)


Human Rights Legal Assistant

  • Conduct background research for a local (LA area) human rights lawyer
  • Participate in bi-monthly progress meetings with Center staff and sponsoring attorney(s)
  • Create spreadsheets of data and written reports as deemed relevant by the project
  • Work as a team member with fellow students, paralegals, Center staff and the attorney(s)

Other responsibilities and duties may arise during the course of the school year. The approximate time commitment is 5-10 hours per week. Positions are open to CMC sophomore, junior, and senior applicants and to both work-study and non-work study students.  

Apply in handshake:  https://cmc.joinhandshake.com/jobs/5311850 (job ID#5311850)

Application deadline for BOTH jobs is Friday, September 24th

Opinion: Arizona plans to use cyanide on death row. Nazis killed millions with the same gas

A man walks through the gate of the former Sachsenhausen camp.

By CAROLINE PETROW-COHEN, the Los Angeles Times

High school history class taught me — and almost certainly you — that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews and other persecuted individuals during the Holocaust between 1941 and 1945. At extermination camps like Auschwitz, victims were stripped naked and herded into gas chambers disguised as crude bathhouses, supposedly to take showers before entering camp. Instead, they were poisoned to death by the lethal gas Zyklon B.

When I think of the horrors of the Holocaust, it’s details like those that disturb me the most. And when I learned that Arizona is preparing to use the same lethal gas to execute prisoners on death row, it’s details like those that rush into my head.

The Guardian first reported that the Arizona Department of Corrections has procured ingredients for hydrogen cyanide, the deadly gas trademarked as Zyklon B during World War II. According to documents obtained by the Guardian, corrections officials have also refurbished an old gas chamber at a prison in Florence, Ariz., and conducted a series of tests to ensure the chamber’s functionality.

The use of hydrogen cyanide to execute prisoners is neither new nor unique to Arizona. Lethal gas was first used as an execution method in Nevada in 1924. It was most recently used in 1999 to execute Walter LaGrand in Pima County, Ariz. LaGrand’s execution did not go smoothly. It took him an excruciating 18 minutes to die after the gas was administered, during which he was twitching, choking and in visible pain, according to witnesses.

Poisonous gas is still authorized for use in six other states, all of which employ lethal injection as a primary execution method. Gas has been used for only 11 executions in the past 50 years because it’s considered by many to be cruel and unusual punishment.

Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, who has done extensive research on the death penalty, considers gas particularly barbaric. “Of all the methods that we’ve ever used in this country, lethal gas in the way that Arizona plans to use it is the worst of them,” she said. “Every single time you use it, there’s no question that it’s going to be inhumane.”

That’s why a federal judge in California barred the state from using gas as an execution method in 1994, a decision that never spread to the rest of the country.

“It was overwhelmingly likely that lethal gas was going to be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It is overtly and obviously torturous.”

But the high court never made that ruling, and now Arizona appears ready to use the method again as it prepares to resume executions. The state had paused executions in 2014 after a horribly botched lethal injection forced a reevaluation of death penalty procedures.

Somehow, that reevaluation could lead to the first lethal gas use on death row since 1999. The decision-makers in Arizona’s Department of Corrections evidently did not prioritize humane execution methods, nor did they consider the trauma inflicted on Jewish communities by reintroducing a tool the Nazis used for genocide.

Capital punishment is wrong for so many reasons, but a particularly insidious offense is the way the death penalty has desensitized us to cruelty. Only utterly, helplessly desensitized corrections officials would think it was acceptable to bring back Zyklon B. Only a law as primitive and regressive as capital punishment would trigger a regression back to Holocaust-era techniques.

“Even without the history, it’s an awful and painful way to kill somebody,” Dunham said. “It’s also the same way the Nazis murdered more than a million people. If Arizona didn’t know that, then they’re completely incompetent. And if they did know that, it’s even worse.”

The closer you look at what’s going on in Arizona, the scarier it gets. Wendy Lower, chair of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, sees various parallels between present-day Arizona and prewar Germany, including alarming efforts by state lawmakers to undermine democracy. These include attempts to reverse the vote in last year’s presidential election and to make it harder to vote in the future.

“The echoes of history are very strong,” Lower said. “As a scholar of the Holocaust, this is especially disturbing because of the context in which it’s unfolding.”

The death penalty is the mechanism that makes these parallels possible. It’s the vehicle that allows states to put time and effort into determining the best way to take a life. No vehicle like that should exist anywhere.

For Holocaust survivors, Arizona’s actions must strike a chord the rest of us can’t understand. For the broader Jewish community, of which I am a part, this news brings disgust and fear. In the midst of rising antisemitic incidents and rhetoric across the country, a callback to genocide compounds the pain we already feel.

“It’s really chilling and alarming just to see the term Zyklon B being used again,” Lower said. “It is a complete insult to Holocaust survivors and their family members and their legacy.”

If the Nazis did it, we should probably avoid it, right? Although I’d consider that an obvious, easy-to-spot moral line, Arizona has no problem crossing it. I think that centuries of capital punishment in this country have blurred some boundaries.

2021 Elbaz Post-Graduate Fellowship Program

Congratulations Tallan Donine ’21!

The Mgrublian Center is pleased to announce that Tallan Donine ’21 has been selected as the 2021 Elbaz Post-Graduate Fellow in Human Rights.

Tallan Donine
Tallan Donine ’21

The Elbaz Fellowship provides funding to a senior who is interested in pursuing a career in human rights for one year following graduation from Claremont McKenna College (CMC).  The program is intended to support a position that focuses on one or more of these areas:  leadership training; project management skills; field work and research; professional networking; and advocacy work to advance human rights.  Upon conclusion of the fellowship, the Elbaz fellow will return to CMC to present a public lecture.

Tallan was selected among several highly qualified applications and will begin her one year fellowship in July 2021 with the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The mandate of the Simon-Skjodt Center is to alert the United States’ national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to prevent and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity, and advance justice and accountability.

Ms. Donine’s fellowship is generously funded by the Elbaz Family (Elyssa Elbaz ’94, Center Advisory Board member, and CMC Trustee) and is a program first launched in 2018. Since its inception, the fellowship has supported six fellows (including Ms. Donine) to conduct work for a leading human rights organization post-graduation. Previous fellows and their respective host organizations include: Jasmine Shirey ’18 (Forum for African Women Educationalists, Harare, Zimbabwe); William Cullen ’19 (World Resources Institute, New Delhi, India); Rebecca Shane ’19 (Freedom House, Washington, D.C.); Laleh Ahmad ’20 (Enough Project / The Sentry, Washington, D.C.); and Jennifer Gurev ’20 (Alliance for Securing Democracy, Washington, D.C.).

Upon completion of her fellowship, Ms. Donine will return to CMC’s campus to deliver a public presentation in the fall of 2022.

Congratulations Tallan!

Biden recognizes Armenian genocide

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide,” the president said in a statement.

By BENJAMIN DIN, as posted on POLITICO on April 24, 2021

President Joe Biden on Saturday recognized the Armenian genocide, fulfilling a campaign promise and taking a step that his recent predecessors have avoided while in office.

Biden’s designation, which coincided with Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, signals the president’s desire to prioritize human rights despite potential fallout in the U.S. relationship with Turkey. It comes 106 years after the beginning of the mass deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, which led to the deaths of up to 1.5 million people.

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide,” Biden said in a statement Saturday.

“Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” he added.

The United States is now part of a group of 30 countries that have recognized the Armenian genocide, according to the Armenian National Institute. Although Turkey acknowledges the “tragic experience” of Armenians, it maintains the number of those who died between 1915 and 1923 is inflated and denies the characterization of the events as genocide.

The largely symbolic declaration followed a Friday phone call between Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In readouts of their first call, neither the White House nor Ankara said if Biden directly addressed his plan to recognize the Armenian genocide. Biden however did tell Erdogan that he intended to recognize the genocide, the Associated Press reported, citing a person familiar with the conversation.

For more than a century the U.S. has not formally recognized the killing of more than a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during WWI as genocide. Over the weekend, that changed.

Erdogan has been adamant in not referring to the World War I-era events as genocide, and in 2019, Erdogan spokesperson Fahrettin Altun said any such recognition would “endanger the future of [U.S.-Turkish] bilateral relations.” In 2014, the Turkish president called the events “inhumane.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry quickly denounced Biden’s statement Saturday, saying it doesn’t have “a scholarly or legal basis.”

“The US President’s statement will not yield any results other than polarizing the nations and hindering peace and stability in our region,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hailed the move, writing in a letter to Biden that his “principled position … is a powerful step towards the restoration of truth and historical justice, invaluable support to the descendants of the victims of the Armenian genocide.”

Over decades, lawmakers in Congress have been willing to recognize the genocide but sitting presidents historically have not. In a statement to mark the day of remembrance last year, Biden said he was “proud” of his role in the Senate to recognize the Armenian genocide and his endorsement of 2019 resolutions in both chambers of Congress that did the same.

In recent weeks, lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about their desire for Biden to take this step. On Wednesday, more than 100 representatives called on Biden to “clearly and directly recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Last month, 38 senators signed on to a letter that also urged Biden to classify the events as genocide.

Prominent Democrats backed Biden’s decision Saturday, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“Our hearts are full of joy that President Biden has taken the historic step of joining Congress with formal recognition on Armenian Genocide Day,” Pelosi said in a statement Saturday. “History teaches us that if we ignore its darkest chapters, we are destined to witness the horrors of the past be repeated.”

Ocasio-Cortez called the move “long overdue” in a tweet Saturday and said that she hopes it will bring peace to people affected by it.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) thanked Biden on Twitter for “speaking truth to power.”

“He has cast aside decades of shameful silence and half-truths, and the broken promises of so many of his predecessors, and spoken truth to power,” Schiff said in a statement.

Past sitting U.S. presidents have danced around the issue, not wanting to disturb relations between the NATO allies.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide if elected, although his administration ultimately did not do so — a decision his ambassador to the U.N. ultimately expressed remorse for in 2018.

President Donald Trump declined to classify the Armenian genocide as such, despite both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly passing resolutions to do so in 2019. Instead, Trump called it “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.”

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan referenced “the genocide of the Armenians” in a statement that remembered victims of the Holocaust.

Ben Leonard contributed to this report.