The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice is proud to spotlight one of its founding board members from the class of 1997, Pragna Soni. During her time at Iowa Law, Soni championed the inception of JGRJ with her fellow classmates. Seeing the need for a journal that dedicated its publication space entirely to the intersection of issues, such as gender, race, and other identity-based attributes, Soni and a small group of classmates began petitioning for the creation of JGRJ in their 1L year. “We saw the intersection of our law school education and these fundamental issues in broader society, so we asked what can our law degree do to advance what is happening in the world?” Soni explains. “The journal centered all of us on a mission while at the law school and [we] dedicated two years to convincing the law school faculty to get the journal up and running.”
Soni served as the technical editor for the founding board of JGRJ. Now, she is the Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe, Overseas Prosecutorial Development and Training (OPDAT), Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. Soni says her path from law school to her current career was no straight line. “I was a terrible networker,” Soni jokes. She sent resume after resume into the “black hole of the DOJ,” and about five years after she left law school, she got a job as Assistant General Counsel for the Department of Justice where she advised U.S. Attorneys on sensitive matters and ethics regulations, as well as served as a liaison between U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Office of Deputy Attorney General, Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General. In this position, Soni also litigated Title VII matters in federal court and before the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Soni has worked in several offices within the DOJ, including as Special Assistant United States Attorney in the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section of the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Colombia and as Acting Deputy General Counsel in DOJ, EOUSA General Counsel’s Office. Most recently, Soni served as Deputy Chief of the DOJ Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. As a Deputy Chief, Soni supervised a team of prosecutors litigating international violent crime cases, and related extraterritorial criminal investigations. Currently, Soni serves as the DOJ, OPDAT Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe, where she supervises prosecutors posted at U.S. embassies throughout the region. Soni and the prosecutors she supervises work on strategic engagement with partner countries to promote the rule of law and to enhance the capabilities of foreign justice institutions, including helping them to reform justice systems with regard for human rights and consistent with international norms and standards.
Soni says her time creating and serving on JGRJ’s founding editorial board created the foundation for a career in civil rights and race and gender-based violence prosecutions. She explains there was a lot of initial resistance to the creation of the journal. “The feeling was not everyone could be a [strong] legal writer,” Soni explains. “We were asked why there even was a need for a journal like ours, why these subjects couldn’t be written about in other journals. But we went to every professor. We lobbied them. We answered their questions and wore down the resistance.” Soni says the founding board of JGRJ felt passionately about being in the same space as other established journals at the law school because each student strengthened their skills with the opportunity to write.
As for the future of JGRJ, Soni says the topics focused on within the journal are more crucial than ever. “What do you do when you remove a right people have come to rely on? It creates instability in the system, and we are seeing that instability play out. But we took that precedent for granted,” Soni states in reference to today’s political climate. Civil rights, Soni says, is the thesis of the journal, as well as the work she now performs in her career given that civil rights underlie the rule of law and democratic institutions. Her pioneering of the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice has created a lasting legacy at the University of Iowa College of Law, and the journal is honored Soni sat down to share the details of her career’s assent.