Shomari Figures (‘10) advises the nation’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
As the White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Justice, Figures ensures the Obama Administration places the right people into appointed positions, those who are going to pursue an interest in justice and fairness, as well as preserve the rights of everyone regardless of their background.
He is responsible for all political personnel movements at the Justice Department. By coordinating that process, he provides his personal insight to Lynch as well as senior staff about those who are under consideration for positions, including those that require confirmation from the U.S. Senate.
Figures’s personal story is very much intertwined with the office where he works. He often meets in the Attorney General’s Conference Room, which was once Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office. It was in those chambers that Kennedy discussed the integration of The University of Alabama that ultimately led to the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door. Gov. George Wallace tried to block the entry of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, to The University of Alabama. Wallace ultimately stepped aside, and Malone and Hood registered for classes. That move also cleared the way for Figures’s father, the late state Sen. Michael A. Figures, to become one of the first African-American graduates of The University of Alabama School of Law in 1972.
“So every time you sit in there, you’re literally sitting in the chambers that paved the way for my father to go to The University of Alabama’s Law School, for Vivian Malone and James Hood to go to The University of Alabama as undergraduates,” he said. “It’s a very fulfilling experience to get to work where I work.”
The position also comes with compelling responsibilities. Figures has been tasked with updating senior leadership about the status of the Clemency Initiative, a program announced in 2014 by former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole that prioritizes the clemency applications of non-violent, low-level offenders with no significant criminal history or ties to large scale criminal organizations, and who have served at least 10 years in federal prison and who, by virtue of changes in law, would have likely received a substantially lower sentence today if convicted of the same crime.
Figures communicates with the Office of the Pardon Attorney and helps implement one of President Barack Obama’s primary goals: eradicating the effects of the harsh sentencing laws of the “war on drugs.”
Prior to working for the Department of Justice, Figures served as the Domestic Director of the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House. While there, Figures witnessed the process of Lynch being nominated and confirmed as Attorney General.
“Being a part of that nomination process, seeing the unjust delay in her confirmation — given her impeccable qualifications — seeing that come to fruition and seeing her confirmed was not a personal accomplishment, but it was definitely one of my proudest moments of being here,” he said.
“Every major accomplishment the administration makes, especially on the criminal justice side or the justice side in general, is something I feel a personal stake in.”
Figures could have landed elsewhere. When his mother, Alabama Sen. Vivian Figures, suggested he attend law school and follow in his father’s footsteps, he said he wasn’t interested. Vivian Figures prayed on it, and her son later came to her and said he had decided to attend law school. She thought it was the perfect fit for him. She had watched as her son developed the attributes that would serve him well as a lawyer. He was intelligent, inquisitive and engaged.
“I remember him as a child holding conversations with adults as if he was their age, and of course, the adult was always amazed,” she said. “He always had so many questions for which he wanted answers.”
Vivian Figures said her son grew up to be a prolific writer and an excellent critical thinker, and it is those skills Ashley Elizabeth Keenan remembers from her her time working with him at the White House. Keenan and Figures worked on a small team, where they were tasked with staffing the domestic policy–focused agencies along with several boards and commissions.
“In that kind of fast-paced, frenetic work environment, there were a lot of long days,” she said. “I think he proved quickly that I could rely on him, and he had my back. He always said it wasn’t about knowing the answer to something; it was about how to be resourceful to be able to find it.”
Figures said the Law School prepared him for the challenges he faces in Washington, D.C. It was in law school where he learned how to communicate with others, how best to present a case or issue in a persuasive manner.
“I just feel like I got a very practical legal education, not just grounded in theory but how these things play themselves out in the real world,” he said. “Education was so conducive to what I do now: communicating with people who don’t often see things the same way initially.”