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The criminal justice system in the US is broken, and it takes people with dedication, determination, and a will, to change it. Enter Kim Kardashian West, who, with big heart and strong mind, is following her father’s footsteps in studying law, as a means to advocate for those wrongfully convicted, or whose sentences do not fit the crime. But she has one thing more at her disposal that will be a boon to her cause, and that’s her celebrity status.
While Kardashian apprentices with #Cut50 national director and co-founder Jessica Jackson Sloan, her detractors have advised her to “stay in her lane” and have critiqued her for learning law this way. However, prior to the big money law schools becoming the standard way to enter the field of law, reading law was the way it was done. Aspiring attorneys would apprentice with a lawyer, and literally read the law books, conduct research, and assist in legal practice as a way to get up to speed. Far from being some side-step into the field, it is a traditional approach.
Kardashian West is in a four-year apprentice program, giving up nights and weekends to study while continuing her demanding filming schedule, and running her beauty business. The California Law Office of Judge’s Chamber Program is available to anyone who has completed 60 college credits (Kardashian West completed 75), and is willing to pay the minimal fees required, which are way less than law school tuition.
The frustration people have with Kardashian West’s entrance into this new career has much to do with her appearance and celebrity status up to this point. No one wants to hear that pretty women can be more than their bodies, and it’s refreshing to see her embrace a second act that has so much substance to it. While she’s being bashed for using her celebrity to propel her into this arena, celebrity could be exactly what American criminal justice reform needs to get some serious attention.
Last year, Kardashian West met with Donald Trump and advocated for the release of Alice Marie Johnson, who on a first, non violent drug offence in 1996 was sentenced to life in prison. Johnson was released, but instead of supporting her work in gaining this grandmother’s pardon, she was bashed for working with Trump. Would they rather have Johnson, who spent 22 years in prison, remain behind bars than Kardashian West sully herself by working with the sitting president to secure her release? In addition to Johnson, she has secured release and clemency for others who have paid their debt to society. She has done this work without making a big thing about it, she just does it.
In an interview with Vogue, she said “The White House called me to advise to help change the system of clemency,’ she says, ‘and I’m sitting in the Roosevelt Room with, like, a judge who had sentenced criminals and a lot of really powerful people and I just sat there, like, Oh, shit. I need to know more. I would say what I had to say, about the human side and why this is so unfair. But I had attorneys with me who could back that up with all the facts of the case. It’s never one person who gets things done; it’s always a collective of people, and I’ve always known my role, but I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society. I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more.”
Since October 2018, Kardashian West has been digging into the case of death row inmate Kevin Cooper, convicted of murdering children and parents in 1985. The crime took place in Chino Hills, California. However, despite the investigation and prosecution by San Bernardino County, questions have remained in the case. Kardashian West believes that Cooper is innocent, and that he was framed. She’s not the only one. 48 Hours aired a documentary about the case earlier this year, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, who put a moratorium on capital punishment in the state, ordered new DNA testing for Cooper.
The families of the victims are understandably upset that Kardashian West, who is so visible and influential, has taken up the cause. What happened in Chino Hills is a nightmare that they’ve been living for over 30 years, and they don’t want to have it dredged up again. But Kardashian West isn’t the only one who is looking into this case. That she is the most media savvy person looking into it means that it will get more attention, but every case in which there are questions about criminal culpability, where there is even a chance that the person who has been imprisoned for a crime may not have committed it, deserves the kind of attention Kardashian West is able to provide. She’s doing this despite her ability to live well and unencumbered by the harsh realities of the criminal justice system. Everyone loves to hate the Kardashians, but there’s simply nothing to hate about that.