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  • Writer's pictureSangitha Namasoo

Courage and Compassion

Nancy Hollander started out her career as an advocate in the late 1970s in New Mexico. Having wanted to practice criminal law and civil rights law, Hollander became a public defender upon graduating from law school magna cum laude. Although she loved her job, the heavy trial load she had to shoulder while raising her child by herself made this an unfeasible career option. Hollander then joined her current firm, Freedman Boyd Daniels, and worked mostly on drug and murder cases in her early years of practice.

Source: Doughty Street Chambers

As Hollander’s practice grew, she took on bigger and more interesting cases, a number of which were very high profile. When asked which of these cases stood out to her the most, Hollander cited the União de Vegetal case. In brief, this case involved a Brazilian religious organisation and a tea they drank as their sacrament which contained a drug banned in the United States. While the state of New Mexico recognised the organisation as a legitimate religion and did not charge them for any crimes, the state wanted to stop this tea drinking practice. In resisting the state, the organisation, represented by Hollander, sued the government for attempting to curb their freedom of religion. Hollander argued this case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Another one of Hollander’s high profile cases was her representation of Mahamedou Ould Slahi who had been detained in Guantanamo Bay by the United States Government on allegations of being an al-Qaeda operative. This case is interesting for many reasons, one of which being that it involved highly classified information. This meant that even with top secret clearance Hollander did not have access to all the available information, making it harder to run the case. Further, the courtroom was sealed during the hearings with representatives of intelligence organisations present to ensure that classified information was not leaked out of the courtroom. After devoting 15 years of her life to the case, Hollander and her team succeeded in securing Slahi’s release. This remarkable story was recently adapted for the silver screen in a movie titled ‘The Mauritanian’ with Jodie Foster playing Hollander.

The Mauritanian is a 2021 legal drama film based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Source: IMDb

From her recounting of her cases it is clear that Hollander has had an interesting legal career. What also comes through in her stories is how deeply Hollander cares about her clients and the outcome of their cases as well the empathy that she has for them, which is something worth emulating.

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