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As a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, David McKinney is responsible for integrative advocacy, identifying potential civil rights and civil liberties issues and working with colleagues to address them. (File photo)
As a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, David McKinney is responsible for integrative advocacy, identifying potential civil rights and civil liberties issues and working with colleagues to address them. (File photo)

Breaking the Ice: Pursuing social change full time at ACLU

 Name: David McKinney

Title: Staff attorney, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota

Education: B.A., business ethics and management, Crown College; M.A., religion, Trinity University; J.D., Loyola University Chicago School of Law

David McKinney went to law school to promote social change. He took on the cause full time in April, leaving private litigation practice to join the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota as a staff attorney.

In his new role, McKinney is responsible for integrative advocacy, identifying potential civil rights and civil liberties issues and working with colleagues to address them through a combination of litigation, public outreach and engagement and lobbying.

McKinney said he “felt compelled to get into the fight” in part in response to the “increase in racist rhetoric and action that we’ve seen in the country in the last year.”

“I had a frustration in private practice with not being able to dedicate the time and energy that I felt was warranted in terms of the times in which we live,” McKinney said.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Talking about my family. My wife I’ve known since my freshman year of college. My daughter is in fifth grade now. In part because I didn’t grow up with a father, I’ve invested a lot of energy around her.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. A desire to influence social change and to change the world. The world I want to influence is one in which communities of color are still experiencing racism, including excessive policing, lack of resources and education, crumbling infrastructure, housing discrimination, employment discrimination. These are all problems that plagued the community in which I grew up in the south side of Chicago years ago. They continue to be issues and persist. I went to law school because I wanted to use the law to find ways to serve those communities better.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” I picked up Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “My Own Words” and started reading it with my daughter. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We were Eight Years in Power.”

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. I would characterize one as arrogance generally. I can get annoyed easily with people who come off as know-it-alls, particularly if they don’t.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney or judge?

A. Problem solving and particularly being a litigator, being able to absorb a lot of information and condense it down to the central pieces and then figure out what the dispute is and then try to offer solutions.

Q. Least favorite?

A. Lawyers can often get so hung up about form that we forget what the actual issues are. On a less-serious note my least favorite is cite checking.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. Spending time with my family. Walking the neighborhood, biking, travel.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. I would claim Chicago as my hometown though I’m certainly a Minnesotan at this point. Chicago is still home to me, the south side of Chicago. I would take people to see Hyde Park, the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, the DuSable Museum of African American History. I’m a huge Bulls fan and was in middle school and high school when the Bulls won their six championships. I would have to go by United Center to show folks the area and Soldier Field, where the Bears play.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. Justice Thurgood Marshall for his contributions as a strategic litigator and a justice. His ability to advocate through his opinions particularly from a dissent is remarkable. I would say the same for Justice Ginsburg.

Locally, [Senior U.S. District] Judge Michael Davis is an example of how to balance professional life and pro bono and community work. It’s rare that I go to a community event where Judge Davis hasn’t had some influence or impact, an award or a scholarship, many of them funded by him. I think [U.S. District Court] Judge Wilhelmina Wright is following in his footsteps in that regard.

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