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Charleston Business

Born To Argue

Sep 24, 2018 01:44PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Holly Fisher
Photography by Stan Foxworthy of Foxworthy Studios

Ask Shaundra Young Scott what she wanted to be as a youngster growing up in North Charleston and compare it to where she ended up, and it’s clear she stayed true to her dreams.

“My father wanted me to be a doctor, but I can’t stand the sight of blood,” she said. “I wanted to be an attorney because I was always arguing or debating something.”

So, Scott found a role model—a strong black woman working as an attorney. “I really loved ‘The Cosby Show.’ Clair Huxtable was everything to me. She was the only black female attorney I’d ever seen.”

If fictional Clair Huxtable could be an attorney, Scott could too. She went to the University of South Carolina, majored in political science, and set her sights on law school. Scott earned her law degree from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta.

After graduation, Scott came back home to North Charleston where she worked first as a legal secretary for S.C. Legal Services. Once she passed the bar exam, Scott moved into the role of supervising attorney in the firm’s migrant division.

Having studied in Puerto Rico and Mexico, Scott was fluent in Spanish and able to work with the many non-English-speaking clients who were migrant and seasonal farm workers. She traveled across the state, championing for their rights for better living conditions and proper wages. She fought trafficking issues. Scott helped give them a voice.

A heart for humanity
In February 2016, Scott expanded her efforts to help even more people around the state when she was named executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. Although based in Charleston, Scott travels the state defending equality, liberty, and justice.

Scott says her work has been nonstop since she started. “People’s rights are being infringed upon,” she said.

She’s added new staff to help manage the workload, which can get especially busy during the state’s legislative session from January to May. Scott keeps tabs on bills—fighting those that are contrary to civil liberties and supporting those that promote liberty and justice. She writes opinion pieces for newspapers around the state, and the ACLU participates in events like the Charleston Pride Festival, the Women’s March, and the Families Belong Together rally.

With more than 60 issues vying for her attention, Scott has narrowed down the state ACLU’s issues to some key priorities, including racial justice, youth justice, criminal justice, immigration, and voting.

At a national level, the ACLU is focused on immigration issues and over the summer was working to reunite children with their parents at the border. Locally, Scott has made it a priority as well.

“My heart is for humanity in general, but especially for the Latino community,” she said.

As an attorney, Scott said she can understand—and argue—both sides of any issue, including the hot button issue of immigration. The country, she said, had an immigration plan in place and now it’s disrupted by racial profiling and efforts to stymie the economic advancement of an entire culture.

“It’s OK when Hispanics are manicuring your lawn or building your houses, but for everything else, they have to go,” she said. “It’s OK for them to serve you, but to live next to you, shop next to you, or enjoy life is a problem.”

Some weeks it can tough to even keep up with all the issues that need the ACLU’s attention. Over the summer, Scott pointed to a series of events: children being taken from their parents at the border, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring, a 15-year-old stabbed by gang members in the Bronx.

“There are fires everywhere,” Scott said. “Sometimes we can barely catch our breath.”

The work is great, and so are the victories
Yet for all the work still to do, Scott can point to important accomplishments for the ACLU of South Carolina.

In June 2017, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the illegal arrest and incarceration of poor people in Lexington County. A statement about the suit noted that “victims are arrested on warrants and incarcerated when they cannot afford to pay fines for traffic and other misdemeanor offenses. They remain in jail for weeks to months without seeing a judge, having a court hearing, or receiving help from a lawyer.”

The lowest payment option is $50, and $50 is a lot of money for a lot of people, Scott said.

“If you can’t make the payment, they issue a warrant for your arrest,” Scott said. “We’re trying to keep people’s lives from being destroyed over $50.”

In May 2018, the ACLU of South Carolina was instrumental in encouraging Gov. Henry McMaster to sign into law amendments to the Disturbing Schools statute. According to the ACLU, this statute was originally passed to deter outside agitators from disturbing schools and colleges.

Because of the statute’s vague language, it was being used on students. “Childish mistakes that had been discipline problems in the past were now treated as crimes,” the ACLU pointed out.

Scott said she’s proud of this effort. “People with disabilities were being shot, labeled, and misunderstood. That got my heart. That could be my child,” she said.

A time for compassion
Despite the wins, Scott said there’s still more work to do. South Carolina is moving forward, but not as quickly as she might like. Efforts toward equality, justice, and liberty start locally, and she encourages people to join the school PTA, be part of the neighborhood homeowners’ association, or run for office.

“If ever there was a time to become involved and care and be compassionate about the human race, it would be now,” Scott said. “Put aside your differences. Live in harmony and peace, so we create a better environment not only for ourselves but for our kids.”