With support from Medtronic, the University of Minnesota has created two new scholarships named after trailblazing alumni. The Judge Pamela G. Alexander Scholarship and Judge Michael J. Davis Scholarship were established to support law students who show a commitment to social justice and exhibit outstanding potential for legal work as civil rights or public interest attorneys.
Pamela Alexander began her legal career as an attorney for the Trust Department of First National Bank. She then joined Legal Rights Center of Minneapolis as a criminal defense attorney, providing free legal services to low-income communities of color. Alexander subsequently became the first Black female prosecutor in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. Shortly thereafter, in 1983, she was appointed to the Hennepin County Municipal Court becoming the first Black female judge in the state of Minnesota and was elevated to the District Court in 1986. There, she presided over the juvenile division and served as assistant chief judge for the court.
Judge Alexander also helped establish the Hennepin County Court Equal Justice Committee and served as its chair for many years making many reforms to aimed at making the court more accessible and fair, including making juries more representative and collecting race data in criminal and juvenile court. She retired from the bench not once, but twice, leaving the first time in 2008 to head the Minnesota Council on Crime and Justice where she continued to spearhead reforms to make the courts fairer and more just. One of her greatest accomplishments was getting “Ban the Box” passed so that felons looking for work did not have to list their convictions before being offered an interview for a job. Subsequently, she was reappointed to the bench in 2013 where she presided until her final retirement in 2018.
In 1990, Alexander issued a controversial ruling concluding that Minnesota’s cocaine sentencing laws were unconstitutional due to their disparate racial effects. That ruling, upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court, was reaffirmed a decade later by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2007 and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. She also served in a pivotal role on the 1993 Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force report that ushered in reforms to address bias in Minnesota’s criminal justice system.
Alexander is a frequent contributor and speaker at the Law School. She has sat on many local, national, and international boards and committees, including the Minneapolis Foundation Board of Trustees, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Juvenile Judges Leadership Council. Alexander has received over 50 awards because of her leadership.
Michael Davis credits the Law School with giving him the opportunity to fulfill his dreams and pursue a lifetime career in public service. He was the first student director of the Law School’s Misdemeanor Clinic. The Law School provided him an internship at the Legal Rights Center, where he later became a lawyer. After graduation, Davis began his career in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Social Security Administration before working with the Neighborhood Justice Center, Legal Rights Center, and Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office. He was appointed by the mayor to serve on the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission. Davis was a trial practice instructor at the Law School for 30 years
From 1983 to 1994, Davis served as a judge in Hennepin County Municipal Court and the Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota. In 1993, he served as chair of the Editorial Committee and co-chair of the Criminal Process Committee of the Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force on Racial Bias in the Judicial System. Alongside others in the Hennepin County District Court, Judge Davis implemented bias and sexual harassment training for judges and staff.
Based on the recommendation of Senator Paul Wellstone, in 1994 President Bill Clinton appointed Davis to the bench of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, where he presided as Chief Judge from 2008 to 2015 and currently serves as a senior judge. Davis was the first Black U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota and the first Black Chief Judge of the district.
From 1999 to 2006, Davis served as a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Davis has presided over five cases that have reached the United States Supreme Court, including Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians, in which the Supreme Court affirmed that the tribe retained hunting and fishing rights on ceded land. Davis presided over three terrorism trials and created the District of Minnesota’s Terrorism Disengagement and Deradicalization Program.
As chief judge, Davis expanded the court’s community outreach programs and formed the award-winning Pro Se Project with the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, expanding access to legal representation for people of color and the indigent. Davis created and facilitated outreach programs to educate the public about historical events that shaped the laws in place today.
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